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Whooping cough spikes in Placer County

Public health reports show 79 local cases in 2013
By: Amy Lobenberg, Journal Staff Writer
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Twice as many cases of whooping cough -- a disease once thought by health officials to be in decline -- were reported to the California Department of Public Health during 2013 as during 2012, with especially large numbers showing up regionally.

The year-to-year jump was much higher locally. According to the report, Placer County had 79 cases of pertussis last year, a dramatic increase compared to the mere 11 reports filed in 2012. The majority of cases in California occurred in infants and children under 18 years of age.

Local medical officials believe that low vaccination rates may be to blame for the rise of the disease.

Placer County officials plan to continue to promote awareness at schools and health facilities, Environmental and Public Health Director Wesley Nicks said Thursday.

“We want to encourage vaccinations and boosters, which we think would be helpful as well,” Nicks said.

Booster shots are recommended for children over the age of 7 and, according to health officials, help sustain the necessary immune response from previous vaccinations.

Dr. Gawayne Vaughan of Auburn Medical Group said Thursday that he recommends the TDAP vaccine, which also protects against tetanus and diphtheria, to all of his patients and includes it in routine immunizations for children.

“It’s one of those things that are preventable if you get the vaccine,” Vaughan said. “If you have had the vaccine in the past, it can wear off, so you need a booster shot.”

Vaughan went on to explain that pertussis can at first seem like the common cold, then after about two weeks individuals will start experiencing a strong, hacking cough, which can last for 10 to 12 weeks. The disease can be fatal to infants under 1 year of age.

“Whooping cough is treatable with proper antibiotics, but it’s very, very contagious, so we would rather you don’t get it all,” said Vaughan. “Babies and kids under 1 don’t usually get the coughing episodes; they can sometimes just stop breathing. They can have apneic episodes.”

Whooping cough is a respiratory infection that is caused by the pertussi bacteria. It can spread easily through the air when an infected person breathes, coughs or sneezes. It can be spread for at least two weeks after coughing starts.

There are some precautions that infected individuals should keep in mind if they find themselves sick, said Nicks.

“Anyone who is positive should stay home until they have taken five full days of antibiotics,” Nicks said. “If left untreated, individuals should wait 21 days from the onset of cough.”

The Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention recommend that pregnant mothers and anyone who is around infants get vaccinated. The DTAP vaccine, a lower-dose version of TDAP, is available for small children and is given at two months, four months, six months, 15 through 18 months, and 4 through 6 years of age.