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For Immediate Release:
November 12, 2010
For more information contact:
Public Health Communications
(213) 240-8144

Number of Reported Pertussis Cases Highest Ever for LA County
Epidemic continues; residents urged to get vaccinated

LOS ANGELES - More pertussis cases were reported in October than any other month so far, the Department of Public Health announced today, renewing the call for residents to get vaccinated as soon as possible. More than a quarter of the total number of reports of pertussis cases in LA County this year occurred within the last month.

"We have received 101 pertussis reports for the first week of November alone (1st-5th), and 429 reports for the month of October. This is an epidemic that is reaching numbers we've never seen before in Los Angeles County," said Jonathan E. Fielding, MD, MPH, Director of Public Health and Health Officer. "This disease can be prevented with a vaccine and I urge everyone who is eligible to take advantage of this protection for themselves and their loved ones. If you have not already done so, make it a priority this weekend to get vaccinated."

To date, more than 1,600 cases of whooping cough have been reported this year. Of those, only 480 have been classified as 'probable' or 'confirmed' so far - many turn out to be false reports or actually occurred outside of LA County or simply cannot be verified. But these numbers are still significantly higher when compared to previous years. During the entirety of 2009, there were 156 probable or confirmed cases of pertussis countywide, and only 80 cases in 2008. Of particular concern is that pertussis has claimed four lives in LA County this year, all of them infants. In a normal year, it is responsible for one or no deaths.

"The best protection against pertussis is vaccination," said Dr. Fielding. "Whooping cough is a disease that is especially dangerous for infants under six months of age, who are not old enough to have received the number of vaccine doses needed to be fully protected. Now is an especially important time to get vaccinated. Vaccinations do not give you instant immunity, and take time to develop full protection. By taking action now, you can ensure that you are protected for the holiday gatherings."

Those who do not have a regular healthcare provider or insurance coverage for vaccines may dial 2-1-1 or visit www.publichealth.lacounty.gov/ip for referrals to providers and community sites offering immunizations free or at a reduced-charge. Make sure that you call ahead to the clinic to ensure that it has the vaccine available and find out if you qualify for a free or reduced-charge vaccination. Eligibility, based on age and other factors, may vary. Some major chain pharmacies are also offering Tdap vaccine for a fee. Contact your local pharmacy for more information and to ask about availability.

The California Department of Public Health recently expanded its vaccination recommendations amid rising numbers of pertussis cases throughout the state. In addition to the usual series of childhood pertussis vaccinations, the California Department of Public Health now recommends an adolescent-adult pertussis booster vaccine (Tdap) for:

  • anyone 7 through 9 years of age who did not complete the pertussis vaccination series at an earlier age;
  • all others 11 years of age and older, especially women of childbearing age before, during or immediately after pregnancy and seniors 65 years of age and older.
  • "Infants are most likely to be infected by parents, grandparents, older siblings, day care workers, and other caregivers who have whooping cough but often don't know that this disease is the reason for their symptoms," said Dr. Fielding. "People suffering from a cough illness who have contact with infants should seek medical care immediately. Anyone who lives with or has frequent contact with an infant should ensure that their vaccinations are up-to-date."

    According to one recent study, when the source of the infant's infection could be identified, 41 percent of infants infected with pertussis contracted the disease from a sibling, 38 percent from their mother, and 17 percent from their father. As such, anyone who has frequent contact with an infant is urged to make sure that their vaccinations are up-to-date. In addition, anyone with a cough-illness of any kind should avoid contact with infants.

    Pertussis is spread by the coughing of an infected individual. Typical symptoms in young children include intense coughing accompanied by a whooping sound, and post- cough vomiting. However, some infants infected with pertussis may not show typical symptoms, but can still suffer life-threatening complications, which can include pneumonia and seizures. Among older children and adults, the primary symptom may be a cough that often lasts for several weeks or longer. If you suspect that you or a loved one may have pertussis, contact your doctor right away.

    Children should receive three primary vaccinations containing the pertussis vaccine and two boosters by age four to six, followed by a Tdap booster (which protects against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis) during their preteen years. Any teen or adult who has not received a Tdap booster yet should do so, particularly if they are in contact with an infant. Los Angeles County residents are encouraged to contact their regular healthcare provider to arrange for recommended vaccinations.

    Everyone should also practice standard hygiene habits in order to help prevent the spread of any illness. These healthy habits include washing your hands often with soap and water, staying home from work or school when sick, avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth, and covering coughs and sneezes appropriately with a tissue.

    For more information on preventing the spread of whooping cough or other illnesses, visit the Public Health website at http://www.publichealth.lacounty.gov.

    The Department of Public Health is committed to protecting and improving the health of the nearly 10 million residents of Los Angeles County. Through a variety of programs, community partnerships and services, Public Health oversees environmental health, disease control, and community and family health. Public Health comprises more than 4,000 employees and has an annual budget exceeding $750 million. To learn more about Public Health and the work we do, please visit http://www.publichealth.lacounty.gov, visit our YouTube channel at http://www.youtube.com/lapublichealth, or follow us on Twitter: LAPublicHealth.