County officials and medical experts encourage vaccination in wake of possible pertussis upswing

Riverside County officials are urging parents to get their young children vaccinated for pertussis after this year’s first confirmed death from the illness.

The death marks the first time since 2010 that there’s been a pertussis-related fatality in the State of California. The 2-month-old infant who fell ill had not been vaccinated and his mother had not received a booster while pregnant, according to county health officials.

Pertussis, commonly referred to as whooping cough, is an infectious bacterial disease that causes individuals who contract it to cough uncontrollably. The disease is particularly dangerous for infants; 69 percent of children less than 1 year of age who contract the infection must be hospitalized.

Barbara Cole, director of disease control at the Riverside County Department of Public Health, said that there were 10 confirmed cases of pertussis in the county as of Thursday, Feb. 13.

That may not seem like much, but it could be an indication of a greater problem, according to officials at the California Department of Public Health. They say that monthly reports indicate that pertussis cases are on the rise.

Yearly cases of whooping cough have been on a downward trend since the epidemic of 2010, when there more than 9,000 reported cases and 10 deaths in the state.

But the contagious infection is cyclical and it’s not unusual to see sudden peaks in the number of cases every 3-5 years, according to a report from The CDPH.

That’s why individuals like Cole are encouraging parents to consult their pediatricians about vaccination schedules.

“There’s a vaccine schedule for child immunization,” she said. “And usually, you’ll see children start their vaccine series at 2 months of age (before receiving additional vaccines every two months), so 2, 4, 6, so there’s a standard schedule for children.”

Dr. Richard Rawson, D.O, a pediatrician for Temecula Medical Center said it may be hard for parents to determine whether their child has whooping cough because symptoms present themselves in a similar manner to the common cold.

Rawson encouraged parents to look carefully at tell-tale signs and symptoms such as the duration of the cough a child is experiencing as well as the kinds of sounds a child makes after coughing.

“Really the thing that distinguishes it (Pertussis) from your typical cold, your typical cough, your typical pneumonia is going to be that cough, cough, cough, cough, cough with that big whoop at the end,” Rawson said.

“Sometimes in younger children, like infants, you won’t see that,” he said. “What they’ll do is they’ll either cough and gag or they will have what is called apnia, which is almost like a breath-holding spell and they’ll sometimes turn blue because they can’t catch that breath.”

The pediatrician said another way to tell if a child has whooping cough is to determine whether they vomit after coughing for an extended period of time, as this could also be an indication that they are suffering from the illness.

However, Rawson said that whenever a child is sick, parents should always take that child to the doctor regardless of symptoms because doctors can make the best determinations for treatment and can most appropriately diagnose certain kinds of illnesses because of their training.

The children’s specialist said that sometimes he meets parents who are reluctant to vaccinate their children because they are afraid of a possible connection between vaccines and autism. His advice to those individuals is to vaccinate anyway because there is no evidence that one causes the other and that vaccines are the best method for reducing a person’s chances of contracting whooping cough.

“To this day I have yet to see anything corroborating a link between vaccines and autism,” he said. “There’s just no good evidence to support that link, and so to all my pediatric patients I recommend that they do get vaccinated.”

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