California Faces Worst Whooping Cough Epidemic in 50 Years

Filed under: Health & Safety: Babies, In The News, Health & Safety: Teens, Health

Whooping cough vaccine for california epidemic

California medical officials are urging residents to get booster shots for whooping cough, as the state is in the midst of the largest outbreak in over 50 years. Credit: Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

California's medical community grew concerned earlier this summer after learning that four newborns -- all less than 3 months old -- had died from whooping cough since the beginning of the year.

The death toll -- now at seven -- has almost doubled and, with 2,700 cases of the disease reported, physicians' concerns have turned to alarm.

National Public Radio reports California now faces its worst whooping cough epidemic in 50 years.

Many physicians thought, like diphtheria, whooping cough was largely a thing of the past, and that it had been all but wiped out by vaccines.

But that's why the disease is particularly brutal to young children who have not yet been vaccinated or had a chance for their bodies to build up immunity to the disease.

The vaccine for whooping cough starts when a child is 2 months old. Booster shots are needed until age 5, and, NPR reports, it can take those five years for some children to build immunity.

Meanwhile, they're vulnerable.

It doesn't help that some parents in California refuse to get their children vaccinated. Childhood vaccines have been blamed for causing autism, a myth refuted by study after study. Some people also ascribe to the belief that vaccines are some sort of vast government conspiracy.

According to NPR, California's Department of Public Health cites three schools in the state where 80 percent of parents have signed a "personal belief exemption" to keep their children from being vaccinated.

Dr. Harvey Karp, a child development specialist and assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Southern California, tells NPR 75 to 90 percent of whooping cough cases are seen in teenagers and adults.

The disease is not particularly deadly in these older populations. However, Karp adds, many of the patients have lower immunities because people have not been diligent about getting booster shots.

This makes them vulnerable to the disease, which, in turn, they risk passing on to infants.

Booster shots for whooping cough and other maladies are available for adults, but many adults are unaware they should get booster shots every 10 years, NPR reports.

"Doctors -- especially pediatricians -- aren't doing a good enough job," Karp tells NPR. "When you go into the doctor's office for your child's care, your pediatrician should be telling you that you should be getting immunized as well."

Related: Whooping Cough Not a Disease of the Past, It's Here and Deadly

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.