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Whooping cough deaths in California vanish in 2011; cases plummet

January 24, 2012 |  8:12 am


Nobody in California died from whooping cough in 2011 -- the first time in more than two decades that there were no deaths due to the disease, public health officials announced early Tuesday.

The previous year, 10 infants died from whooping cough, or pertussis. In addition, the number of people infected dropped from 9,000 in 2010 to 3,000 last year. 

Whooping cough reached epidemic levels in 2010, prompting public health officials to launch a massive effort to reduce the number of cases and deaths. They advised physicians to look for early signs of the disease and offered free vaccines to hospitals and clinics. The California Department of Public Health also created public service announcements and partnered with local health departments to get out the word about the dangers of whooping cough. And the state passed a law requiring students in grades 7 to 12 to get vaccinated. 

"It is really just a reminder that a lot of these illnesses are really preventable," said Gil Chavez, deputy director of the Center for Infectious Diseases at the state Department of Public Health.

Chavez added that the deaths also can be prevented if cases are identified and treated quickly."To have gone through a year like 2011 with 3,000 cases and having no fatalities is pretty remarkable," he said. 

Pertussis is a bacterial disease that infects the respiratory system. It can be particularly dangerous for infants, who are not completely vaccinated until they are 6 months old. Even after vaccination, immunity wanes over time. 

-- Anna Gorman


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Photo: A student at Huntington Park High gets a whooping cough shot earlier this month. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times