Pregnant Women Urged to Get Whooping Cough Shot amid Possible Epidemic

The County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency is urging every pregnant woman to get immunized against pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough, as the county gets ready for another possible pertussis epidemic based on historical patterns.

“It’s critical for pregnant women and people who come into close contact with young infants to get vaccinated,” said Wilma Wooten, M.D., M.P.H., County public health officer. “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.”

Pertussis is a cyclical disease that peaks every three to five years, and the last epidemics were in 2010 and 2014. Last year, San Diego County confirmed 1,154 cases, the highest of any county in the state.

Some of the increase can be explained by San Diego County’s advanced detecting and reporting system.

“Pertussis activity in our region appears to higher than the rest of the state, but much of this is due to the excellent detection and reporting of this potentially deadly disease by San Diego pediatricians and family physicians,” said Wooten. “We have worked closely over the years with local health care professionals and educators to stress the need for everyone to be up-to-date with their vaccinations and to treat and report cases when they occur.”

The 2017 total was the third highest count in the county over 40 years, surpassed only by the epidemic years of 2010 and 2014, when 1,179 and 2,072 pertussis cases were reported, respectively.

Fifty-six pertussis cases have been confirmed in San Diego County to date in 2018, compared to 52 cases at the same time last year. The last pertussis death reported in San Diego County was a 5-week old who died in July, 2016, but there was one death in California in 2017.

One in five of the San Diego County cases in 2017 were under three years of age and 52 percent were between the ages of 10 and 17. The median age of all cases was 13 years of age. The youngest case was 25 days old and the oldest was 93 years old.

“We see many young infants hospitalized every year at Rady Children’s so the increased number of cases this year is a concern,” said Dr. Mark H. Sawyer, pediatric infectious disease specialist, Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego. “These hospitalizations can be prevented if pregnant women make sure they are immunized during pregnancy to protect their infants beginning on their first day of life.”

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.

The vaccines are also available at community clinics, and many retail pharmacies. People without medical insurance can get vaccinated at one of the seven County locations; call 2-1-1 for a location nearest you.

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

Tom Christensen is a communications specialist with the County of San Diego Communications Office. Contact