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Whooping cough cases continue to rise in California [Updated]

June 3, 2010 |  4:54 pm

Whoopingcoughchart,jpg Whooping cough cases have tripled in California, health officials said Thursday, with the Central Valley, the San Francisco Bay Area and the Los Angeles area seeing sizable increases.

There have been 584 confirmed cases of whooping cough, also known as pertussis, between Jan. 1 to May 31, a threefold increase from the same time period last year, when there were 190 cases, said Ken August, a spokesman for the California Department of Public Health.

The illness can cause adults to experience severe spasms of coughing that, if left untreated, can last three or four months. At most risk are young infants, who are most vulnerable to the bacterial disease and can die after infection.

In the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area, there has been a six-fold increase, from 29 cases to 173 cases for the first five months of the year. In Fresno County, there are 76 cases so far this year, up from nine.

In Los Angeles County, there are 121 suspected and confirmed cases of pertussis, while during the same time period last year, there were 56 confirmed cases. Orange County has seen 41 suspected and confirmed cases so far this year, up from six during the same time last year.

“This may reflect the continuing outbreak that we’ve seen,” Los Angeles County health officer Jonathan Fielding said.

The outbreak in the Central Valley prompted the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to dispatch a team to conduct a study to determine the best lab test to help diagnose pertussis.

California health officials have warned physicians throughout the state that doctors often mistake pertussis  for another illness, causing a delay in diagnosis that can lead an ill patient to become sicker and infect an infant.

Health officials urge anyone who will be in contact with infants to get a booster shot protecting against pertussis. Immunization can begin to lose its effectiveness after five years.

So far this year, four infants – all younger than 3 months old – have died of whooping cough in California, exceeding the total for 2009, when three infants died.

[Update, 4:30 p.m.: State officials said Thursday afternoon that a fifth infant death due to pertussis had been reported to them. The infant died in San Bernardino County more than a month ago, although state officials said they did not learn of the case until Thursday.]

-- Rong-Gong Lin II

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