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June 7, 2011 > Don't Ignore the Threat of Whooping Cough

Don't Ignore the Threat of Whooping Cough

Why Kids and Adults Should Get Immunized

When was the last time you received a pertussis-or whooping cough-vaccine booster? What about your children? Are their vaccinations up to date?

Ever since children began receiving DPT (diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus) shots as part of their routine early childhood health regimen, whooping cough is not something most people worry about. Yet, the California Department of Public Health now recommends that all Californians be immunized against this highly contagious disease, especially if they come in contact with infants.

"We are facing a whooping cough epidemic over the last two years," says Ali Hallaj-pour, MD, a pediatrician on the medical staff at Washington Hospital. "Whooping cough is a preventable disease and, in rare instances, it can be life threatening, especially among very young babies who have not yet been immunized. For this and other reasons, the epidemic is alarming and we should all be concerned about getting it under control. Besides making people sick, whooping cough represents a growing cost to our health care system and causes adults and children to miss more days of work and school."

Ending the Epidemic

Statistics from the Department of Public Health show that our state is facing the worse outbreak of whooping cough in generations. More than 9,000 cases were reported to the state in 2010, the most since 1947. Last year, ten infants in California died of the disease. In 2011, whooping cough has continued at increased levels, with more than 1,100 cases as of mid-May. No deaths have been reported this year. According to the Department of Public Health, vaccination is the best defense against whooping cough.

"The challenge of this disease is that it is very hard to identify," explains Dr. Hallaj-pour. "Most people think they simply have a persistent cough from a cold or allergy. By the time they come in to see their physician, the illness is usually at a more advanced stage and harder to treat. That's why preventing whooping cough in the first place through immunization is the best course of action."

Boosting Their Immunity

Because whooping cough is communicated through contact and the droplets produced from coughing, you can also help prevent it through the same measures recommended to stop the spread of colds and flu: Cough into your elbow and wash your hands frequently.

Children normally receive the whooping cough (or pertussis) vaccine at age 2 months, 4 months, and 6 months. Another dose is given at about 18 months of age, and a booster before children enter kindergarten. Because it wears off over time, immunity from whooping cough is generally low by the time children reach their teens.

In September 2010, the California Legislature passed a law requiring that all children entering seventh grade through twelfth grade must have a whooping cough booster (Tdap) before starting the school year this coming fall.

If you have a youngster entering these grades in the upcoming school year, don't wait until the last minute to get their whooping cough booster. Check with your primary care physician. Adults should also receive a booster if they have not had one in the last 10 years.

"It is especially important that adults be immunized against whooping cough if they are around very young infants," recommends Dr. Hallaj-pour. "This includes moms, dads, grandparents and other family members who may be caring for the baby."

Prevention is the Best Medicine

Through the Washington on Wheels (W.O.W.) Mobile Health Clinic, Washington Hospital is helping to make whooping cough immunizations available to the community as well as on school campuses. The W.O.W van will conduct walk-in whooping cough (Tdap) immunization clinics every Tuesday at the Fremont Family Resource Center, 39155 Liberty St., Fremont, from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Visit or call (510) 608-3203 for further information. If you are uninsured, there are also resources in the community that can provide the whooping cough vaccination at low or no cost.

For more information about vaccination availability for uninsured families, contact:
* Washington On Wheels - (510) 608-3203
* Tri-City Health Center in Fremont - (510) 770-8040
* Tiburcio Vasquez Health Center - (510) 471-5880

Get Up to Speed on Immunization

All whooping cough vaccination clinics will continue throughout this summer. For more information about whooping cough, visit or go online to the California Department of Public Health at or the Centers for Disease Control at

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