Pertussis, better known as whooping cough, has claimed the life of a Kern County infant less than six months of age, the Kern County Department of Public Health announced today. It is the first confirmed death from the disease in Kern County since 2009. “This baby’s death is a tragedy for the family and for our community,” said Matt Constantine, Director of Kern County Public Health Services Department.
Pertussis is cyclical with peaks in incidence every 3 to 5 years. In 2010, California experienced a pertussis epidemic with more than 9,100 cases, including 376 in Kern County. Another epidemic with more than 11,000 cases in California and 166 cases in Kern County was seen in 2014. Last year, there were 145 cases of pertussis reported in Kern County; 90 percent of those cases were children less than 18 years of age. Of the pediatric cases, 14 percent were in infants who were less than 6 months of age.
"Immunizations are the first line of defense, especially to protect those who are not yet old enough to be vaccinated,” said Dr. Claudia Jonah, Public Health Officer for Kern County Public Health Services Department. "We strongly encourage pregnant women to get vaccinated as well as all those who will be in the household of children who are less than twelve months of age. Adults should keep current with their booster shots to reduce the spread of the disease, and all parents should vaccinate their children on time."
The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends that all pregnant women receive a tetanus, diphtheria, and acellular pertussis (Tdap) vaccine during each pregnancy. While Tdap can be administered at any time during pregnancy, optimal timing is during the third trimester, between 27 and 36 weeks.
For infants, pertussis vaccinations typically start at two months of age, but adequate protection doesn’t occur until about six months of age. It is important that both children and adults are up-to-date on their immunizations. Booster shots for pertussis are critical because, unlike some other vaccine-preventable diseases, neither the pertussis disease nor vaccine confers lifelong immunity.
"You know this is a situation where it's not like the parents didn't vaccinate their child. The child is too young to be vaccinated and so it's extremely important for all of the rest of us to be vaccinated so that we don't pass on infection to people who can't get their own," said Dr. Jonah.
To reduce the spread of pertussis, the California Department of Public Health recommends that:
- Pregnant women receive a pertussis vaccine booster during the third trimester of each pregnancy, even if they received it before.
- Infants be vaccinated against pertussis as soon as possible. The first dose is recommended at two months of age. Young children need five doses of pertussis vaccine by kindergarten (ages 4-6 years).
- California 7th grade students receive the pertussis vaccine booster as required.
- Adults receive a pertussis vaccine booster, especially if they are in contact with infants or are healthcare workers who may have contact with infants or pregnant women.
The symptoms of pertussis vary by age. For children, a typical case of pertussis starts with a cough and runny nose for one to two weeks. The cough then worsens and children may have rapid coughing spells that end with a whooping sound. Young infants may not have typical pertussis symptoms and may have no apparent cough. Parents may describe episodes in which the infant’s face turns red or purple. For adults, pertussis may simply be a cough illness that persists for several weeks. Pertussis can be treated with antibiotics. If you think you may have pertussis, see your healthcare provider right away. Vaccinations are offered at Kern County Public Health Services as well as other locations throughout the county. For more information call 661-321-3000.