State declares whooping cough cases at epidemic stage

The number of cases of whooping cough in San Diego County is on the rise, and state health officials Wednesday declared the disease at epidemic stage in California.

There have already been 98 reported cases of whooping cough, also called pertussis, in San Diego County this year, compared to 143 total cases locally in 2009, according to the county's Health and Human Services Agency.

A 3-year-old preschool student in Encinitas and a 12-year-old middle school student in El Cajon are the latest to contract the disease in San Diego County, according to the county.

The California Department of Public Health today warned that the state is on pace to suffer the most illnesses and deaths due to whooping cough in 50 years.

"Whooping cough is now an epidemic in California," said Dr. Mark Horton, director of the state agency. "Children should be vaccinated against the disease and parents, family members and caregivers of infants need a booster shot."

As of June 15, California had recorded 910 cases of whooping cough, four times the number from this time last year when 219 cases were reported, according to the CDPH.

Five infants, all under three months of age, have died from the disease in California so far this year.

According to state health officials, cases of whooping cough tend to peak every two to five years. In 2005, California recorded 3,182 cases and eight deaths from the disease.

Whooping cough is highly contagious, and young infants are particularly vulnerable, health officials said. It disease usually starts with flu-like symptoms, such as runny nose, sneezing, fever and a mild cough, according to the state agency.

The symptoms may be mild and brief, or last up to two weeks, but are often followed by severe coughing fits that may be associated with vomiting.

   
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