Calif. health officials address 'whooping cough' outbreak

SACRAMENTO, Calif. California health officials and healthcare professionals are urging Californians to get vaccinated, as the state is on pace for the worst epidemic of pertussis, more commonly known as whooping cough, in more than 50 years. The disease already has claimed the lives of nine infants in the state.

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

As of Sept. 14, there were 4,017 cases of the illness reported for a state rate of 10.3 cases for every 100,000 people. Of that number, 3,985 of the reported cases experienced disease onset in 2010, according to the California Department of Public Health.

This marked the most cases reported in 55 years, when 4,949 cases were reported in 1955, and the highest incidence in 48 years, when a rate of 10.9 cases per 100,000 people was reported in 1962. Previously, the peak was in 2005, when there were 3,182 cases reported, according to the CDPH.

Pertussis is a highly contagious disease. Unimmunized or incompletely immunized young infants are particularly vulnerable. Since 1998, more than 80% of the infants in California who have died from pertussis have been Hispanic.

The vaccine begins at 2 months of age, but young infants are not adequately protected until the initial series of three shots is complete at 6 months of age. The series of shots that most children receive wears off by the time they finish middle school, according to the CDPH.

In response to the epidemic, Walgreens announced that its pharmacists in California were offering pertussis immunizations (tetanus/diphtheria/pertussis-Tdap vaccine) at more than 150 select stores throughout the state. Walgreens pharmacists in the state can administer immunizations to anyone age 9 years and older. With more than 575 stores throughout California, Walgreens will continue to add locations that can administer the whooping cough vaccine.

"We share in the recommendations of state and federal health officials that the best thing people can do to keep themselves and their families healthy during this epidemic is to get vaccinated," stated Bill Hose, California market VP for Walgreens. "In addition to children, who are the most vulnerable, those who care for or are in contact with children should also be immunized, and we're continuing to stress these important statewide recommendations to our patients, customers and the general public."

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