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State warns whooping cough epidemic could be worst in 50 years

June 23, 2010 | 12:10 pm

California’s top health official warned Wednesday the state is on pace to record the highest number of whooping cough cases in half a century.

“Whooping cough is now an epidemic in California,” said Dr. Mark Horton, director of the California Department of Public Health.

Reported cases of whooping cough, also known as pertussis, have quadrupled since last year, he said.

There have been 910 confirmed cases of the disease in California this year between Jan. 1 and June 15. That is four times as many cases as during the same period last year, when 219 cases were confirmed.

Another 600 possible cases of whooping cough are being investigated by local health departments, Horton said.

The illness can cause adults to experience severe spasms of coughing that if left untreated can continue for three or four months.

Infants are most vulnerable because infection can cause death. Five infants — all under 3 months old — have died from the disease this year, Horton said.

He called for children to be vaccinated against the disease and said parents and infant caregivers should get booster shots.

-- Kate Linthicum and Rong-Gong Lin II

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