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Unraveling the Whooping Cough Epidemic

California's Pertussis Epidemic the Worst in 55 Years; Outbreaks Now Occurring in Other States

Tracking the Whooping Cough Epidemic and Its Spread

As the epidemic spreads, no one can say for sure if it's peaked or just beginning to gain steam. Several other states have reported a surge in cases, according to CDC spokesman Jeff Dimond, including South Carolina, New York, Michigan, Ohio, and Minnesota. 

Public health officials are urging parents to be sure their children's vaccinations are up to date and to get an adult booster themselves. Probably only 6% of U.S. adults have gotten that booster, according to CDC estimates.

Public health officials are also promoting a concept called ''cocooning": being sure anyone in contact with infants, particularly those too young to get the first vaccine dos, are immunized against pertussis.

Here are the CDC’s vaccine recommendations:

  • For young children,five doses of the vaccine called DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis) given at 2, 4, 6, and 15-18 months, and 4-6 years.
  • For those 11 through 18, the CDC recommends one booster dose of Tdap.
  • Adults 19 through 64 should get a dose of Tdap.

Although the CDC does not have a recommendation on the use of pertussis in people over age 65, as a whooping cough booster is not licensed for this age group, it says people 65 and older can talk to their doctor to see if Tdap is a good decision for them. Doctors may choose to give the Tdap to people 65 and older, especially if they are caring for an infant.

The California Department of Public Health broadened its recommendation for booster doses of pertussis, suggesting it for anyone 7 or older who isn't fully immunized, including seniors, as well as women of childbearing age, before, during, or right after pregnancy.

CDC epidemiologist Thomas Clark says he hopes that the tragedy of the epidemic may help change the minds of people concerned about vaccines.

"I hope it makes [people] realize that diseases like pertussis haven't gone away,” says Clark, MD, MPH, the CDC's medical officer and epidemiology team leader. “I think some people thought whooping cough was a disease of the past."

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