Whooping cough has claimed the life of a 3-week-old infant and is considered a health threat to other children and adults in the Northern San Joaquin Valley.
San Joaquin County public health officials said the infant contracted the illness shortly after birth. Officials would not say when the baby died or where the family lives in San Joaquin County.
Pertussis is a very contagious illness and is especially dangerous for newborns and infants, who do not receive the first immunization for the disease until they are 2 months old.
Krista Dommer, a county public health spokeswoman, said the child was not from the southern part of San Joaquin County, where officials have seen a higher number of cases, particularly in Manteca and Tracy.
California’s top health officials have said a whooping cough epidemic is sweeping the state, with more than 11,000 cases tallied in 2014. That’s the highest count since 2010, when outbreaks sickened almost 9,200 people in California.
In San Joaquin County, the illness – characterized by extreme coughing fits – sickened 212 people last year and has resulted in 23 cases since Jan. 1. Last year’s count was a sharp increase over the county’s 27 cases in 2013.
In Stanislaus County, there were 87 lab-confirmed cases of whooping cough last year, and nine people have contracted the illness in the first two months of this year, said Trudi Prevette, clinical supervisor of communicable disease for the county. The disease, spread by coughing or sneezing near other individuals, was under control in the two previous years, with 11 cases in 2013 and seven in 2012.
“We know it is cyclical, and that is shown by last year’s numbers,” Prevette said.
The symptoms in young children usually are intense coughing punctuated by a whooping sound and possible vomiting. Younger infants who are infected may not cough, but they could have breathing problems or even could stop breathing, health officials said. Pneumonia and seizures are other potential complications.
Officials in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties are encouraging pregnant women to have third-trimester vaccinations to protect their newborns. A press release explained that the mother transfers the immunity to the fetus. It can safeguard the infant until the diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis vaccinations are given at 2, 4 and 6 months.
Any parents, older siblings and care workers who are infected with pertussis – and may not know it – can easily pass the infection to an infant. The early childhood vaccinations do not make people immune for their entire lives. Booster shots are recommended for older children and adults.
“Everyone who has or will have frequent contact with an infant is urged to make sure that their pertussis vaccination is up to date,” said Dr. Alvaro Garza, San Joaquin County’s public health officer, noting it provides a protective “cocoon” around the baby.
Garza advised any person with a cough to avoid contact with infants.
After the DTaP vaccinations in their first year, children typically are given two booster shots before they are 6, and a Tdap booster is recommended in preteen years.
Only one dose of the Tdap booster is recommended for adolescents and adults, but those who are around infants can be revaccinated if several years have elapsed since their last Tdap shot, a press release said. People should contact their physician about a vaccination.
For those without insurance or ability to pay, pertussis vaccine is available at San Joaquin County’s public health services clinics and the Stanislaus County Health Services Agency immunization clinic at 820 Scenic Drive in Modesto.
Stanislaus County’s walk-in immunization clinic is open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and Wednesdays and Fridays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2321.