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With whooping cough cases on the rise, experts said the cough has a distinct sound

June 8, 2010 | 12:52 pm

Reported cases of whooping cough have tripled since last year, according to state health officials, with the Central Valley, the San Francisco Bay Area and the Los Angeles region seeing sizable increases in infections.

In California, there have been 584 cases of whooping cough, also known as pertussis, confirmed between Jan. 1 and May 31. That is three times as many cases during the same period last year, when 190 cases were confirmed, according to Ken August, a spokesman for the state's 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. Infants are most vulnerable, as infection can cause death.

In the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area, there has been a six-fold hike, 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.

Los Angeles County reported 121 suspected and confirmed cases so far this year — more than half of them in May — up from 56 confirmed cases in the same period last year. In Orange County, there are 41 suspected and confirmed cases so far this year, up from six.

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

They urge anyone who will be in contact with infants, particularly mothers, fathers, grandparents and siblings, to get a pertussis booster shot. The strategy, called "cocooning," protects infants too young to be vaccinated by inoculating everyone around them.

-- Rong-Gong Lin II

(In the video above, Lin talks about how to determine whether you might have whooping cough, including describing the distinctive sound of the cough that lends it its name).