Health

Pertussis Cases Reach Annual Record

The number of pertussis, or whooping cough, cases reported in San Diego County last year reached a new high, surpassing the previous record by nearly 900 cases, the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency announced today.

A total of 2,072 pertussis cases were confirmed in 2014, eclipsing the previous record set in 2010 when 1,179 cases were reported.

The highly contagious respiratory disease sickened children and adults throughout California, but San Diego County was hit especially hard. California recently reported 11,114 cases for 2014, though this number is likely to increase due to reporting delays. The rate of pertussis cases per 100,000 people in San Diego County was slightly more than double the state rate.

“Pertussis activity in the region has been high since the end of 2013 and the epidemic appears to be continuing into 2015,” said Wilma J. Wooten, M.D., M.P.H., County public health officer. “We are working with local health care professionals and educators to stress the need for everyone to be up-to-date with their vaccinations.”

To date, 157 pertussis cases have been confirmed in San Diego County in 2015, compared to 154 cases at the same time last year. There have been no pertussis deaths reported in San Diego County since 2010, but there were four infant deaths in California in 2014, and there have been two deaths this year. 

Wooten said it’s critical for pregnant women and people who come into close contact with young infants to get vaccinated. Newborns are very susceptible to whooping cough because they are too young to be fully vaccinated. It is vital for pregnant women to be vaccinated in the third trimester to give protection to their unborn infants.

Nine percent of the San Diego County cases in 2014 were under one year of age and 42 percent were between the ages of 13 and 18. The median age of all cases was 12 years of age. The youngest case was nine days old and the oldest was 96 years old.

Forty local cases required hospitalization in 2014 and 26 of those cases (65 percent) were babies less than one year old.

A typical case of pertussis starts with a cough and runny nose for one to two weeks, followed by weeks to months of rapid coughing fits that sometimes end with a whooping sound. Fever, if present, is usually mild. Antibiotics can lessen the severity of symptoms and prevent the spread of the disease to others.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the following vaccination schedule:

  • Young children need five doses of DTaP by kindergarten: at 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 15 to 18 months, and 4 to 6 years.
  • All students entering 7th grade need proof of a whooping cough booster immunization (Tdap).
  • A Tdap booster is recommended for pregnant women during their third trimester of each pregnancy, even if they got a booster before becoming pregnant.
  • One dose of Tdap is recommended for adults 19 years of age and older who did not get Tdap as an adolescent.

Parents can obtain the DTaP vaccine series and the Tdap booster shot for themselves and their children through their primary care physicians. Local retail pharmacies offer vaccinations for a fee, and anyone who is not covered by a medical insurance plan can get the shot from a County Public Health Center at minimal or no cost.

For more information about whooping cough and ongoing vaccination clinics, call the HHSA Immunization Branch at (866) 358-2966, or visit www.sdiz.org.

José A. Álvarez is a communications specialist with the County of San Diego Communications Office. Contact