30 whooping cough cases in county this year

A statewide surge of whooping cough is hitting close to home.

Stanislaus County has tallied 30 cases of the respiratory illness this year, already exceeding the count in 2009, when there were 17.

Dr. John Walker, county public health officer, confirmed Monday that a 4-week-old infant died in the county in early May. Officials did not identify the child or discuss the circumstances of the death.

The child was one of five infants in California fatally stricken this year with whooping cough, which is the common name for pertussis. In addition to the Stanislaus County case, two deaths occurred in Los Angeles County, one in Fresno County and one in San Bernardino County.

All of the victims were less than 3 months old, state health officials said.

From January through May, 584 people became ill in the state, which is triple the number of cases during the same period in 2009. The contagious illness is characterized by coughing fits that may last for weeks or months.

Because the disease tends to peak every five years, officials fear this could become the worst year for pertussis since 2005, when almost 3,200 people were stricken in California, including 110 in Stanislaus County.

Walker said his office sent two alerts last month to hospitals, medical clinics and schools warning of the potential for whooping cough outbreaks.

Officials are calling for immunization to protect infants, as well as older children and adults.

Infants are vulnerable because the vaccinations for whooping cough start at 2 months and babies are not fully protected until they are 6 months old.

Walker said expectant mothers should plan to be vaccinated right after birth and fathers during the pregnancy.

Caregivers and others who have close contact with infants should be vaccinated as well, officials said.

The series of pertussis shots given to children younger than 5 does not provide lifelong protection, which is why the disease has not been eradicated.

Health experts say children will need a booster shot by age 11 or 12. Officials are trying to educate adults to seek protection when they get a tetanus shot, which is usually given every 10 years. A substitute for that shot is a vaccine guarding against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis.

Trudi Prevette, a county communicable disease nurse, said many adults are not aware they need protection against whooping cough. But nine of the people infected in the county this year were older than 21, she noted.

The victims have ranged from 4 weeks to 68 years old. Fifteen were between the ages of 5 and 18, and six were younger than 5 years old.

Prevette said people with severe coughing attacks should seek medical attention. "If you have been coughing for awhile, it is a good idea to see your doctor," she said. "They used to call this the 100-day cough because it can last such a long time."

Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at or 578-2321.