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Whooping cough at near-record high
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The outbreak of whooping cough continues to grow in California as the state nears an infection rate that hasn't been seen in 55 years.

As of Sept. 21, there have been 4,223 confirmed, probable, and suspected cases of pertussis, also known as whooping cough, in California in 2010. The state has a current rate of infection of 10.8 cases per 100,000 people, according to the California Public Health department.

Of those cases, the state has recorded nine infant deaths from whooping cough. One of the deaths was in Stanislaus County and the latest was reported in San Bernardino County on Sept. 16.

"This baby's death is a tragedy for a family and a painful reminder for all of us that vaccine-preventable diseases like pertussis are still with us," Horton said. "We have an effective vaccine to prevent pertussis. We need the help of the entire community to combat this epidemic and particularly to ensure the protection of young infants."

Whooping cough is a bacterial infection that attacks the respiratory system. It's a highly contagious disease that infants and young children are particularly vulnerable to if they haven't been immunized, the Centers for Disease Control reported. Whooping cough is a cyclical disease with cases peaking every few years. Currently, the nation is experiencing a resurgence of the disease, according to the CDC.

A typical case in children and adults 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.

The current rate is the most cases the state has seen in 55 years when 4,949 cases were reported in 1955. The last spike was in 2005 when there were 3,182 cases reported in the state.

As of Sept. 21, Stanislaus County has reported 106 cases of whooping cough to the state health department. Merced County has had 91 cases and San Joaquin has reported 51, according to the health department's records.

All of the infants who have died were under three months of age. The five-dose series of pertussis vaccinations typically starts at two months of age, but adequate protection doesn't occur until the third dose at about six months of age. Horton urged parents, family members and caregivers of infants to get a pertussis booster shot and provide a "cocoon of protection" around the newborns. The CDPH has broadened its recommendations for pertussis vaccination to include a booster shot for: Anyone seven years and older who is not fully immunized, including seniors; women of childbearing age, before, during or immediately after pregnancy; and others who have contact with pregnant women or infants.

For those ages 65 and older, the newly recommended pertussis booster shot is a covered benefit for Medicare beneficiaries under the Medicare Part D plan, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The Stanislaus County Health Services Agency has several upcoming whooping cough shot vaccination clinics scheduled including one today at Central Valley High School at 4033 S. Central Avenue, Ceres from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. The vaccine will be given free of charge to everyone, including: New post-partum women; fathers of newborns; infant caregivers, including household contacts that might provide care for the infant such as older siblings and grandparents under the age of 65; and daycare providers and daycare workers.

For additional clinic times and dates call 558-7700 or 558-7400.