County warns public of highly contagious whooping cough

County public health officials have confirmed four cases of whooping cough and are advising anyone with symptoms to seek medical attention immediately.

State health officials have seen a rise of whooping cough cases in California and recently put out an alert urging people to be vaccinated to prevent more vulnerable people, including infants, from getting the highly contagious disease.

Two infants from Los Angeles and Fresno counties have died, according to Dr. Kathleen Harriman, chief of the state Department of Public Health’s Vaccine Preventable Disease Epidemiology Section.There were 219 cases of whooping cough reported in the first three months of this year in California compared with 118 during the same period last year, she said.

Over the past decade, three or four infants have died of the disease each year in California. The greatest number of cases occurs in August and September.

“Unimmunized or incompletely immunized young infants are particularly vulnerable,” Dr. Mark Horton, director of the state Department of Public Health, said in a news release. “Illness in this age group frequently leads to hospitalization and can be fatal.”

Symptoms of whooping cough — also known as pertussis — include a cough lasting longer than two weeks, episodes of sudden, severe coughing, and vomiting after coughing, according to San Luis Obispo County officials.

Infants who are ill may become pale or dusky blue during a coughing episode and may even stop breathing for a short period of time. Treatment includes antibiotics and rest; however, infants who are ill may require hospitalization.

The childhood vaccine wears off after six to 12 years, leaving adults susceptible to the disease. State health officials recommend a booster dose of the vaccine for children ages 11 to 18, and for anyone who will have close contact with young infants.

The confirmed cases in San Luis Obispo County are elementary and middle school students, said county Communicable Disease Manager Christine Gaiger. However, it’s difficult to say how many unconfirmed cases there are, she said.

“It can mushroom out quite quickly,” Gaiger said.

Those interested in vaccination should call their children’s pediatrician or their physician. Or they can call the county public health department in San Luis Obispo at 781-5500, in Grover Beach at 473-7050 or in Paso Robles at 237-3050.

Reach Cynthia Lambert at 781-7929. Stay updated by following @SouthCountyBeat on Twitter.