WEDNESDAY, Aug. 4 (HealthDay News) -- Amidst the largest outbreak of whooping cough in decades, public health officials in California are urging residents, particularly pregnant women and those who come into contact with infants, to make sure they're immunized for the highly contagious disease.
With the incidence of whooping cough also higher than last year in Michigan, South Carolina, Ohio and upstate New York, there's growing concern whooping cough will continue to spread, said Jennifer Liang, an epidemiologist with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Whooping cough, or pertussis, is named for the wheezing sound, or "whoop," sufferers make when they try to breathe during a coughing fit.
"Pertussis is a cyclic disease, and we do see peaks every three to five years," Liang said. "The last peak was 2005, when we had 25,000 reported cases nationally, and we may be on the upswing of another cycle."
So, should you be worried? In adults, whooping cough can cause a barking cough that lasts for weeks, but it's treatable with antibiotics and rarely life-threatening, said Jeff Dimond, a CDC spokesman.
But in infants too young to be immunized, whooping cough can be deadly. Last week, the seventh California baby died in what public health officials are called the largest outbreak in 50 years.
About two-thirds of infants who get pertussis will be hospitalized, according to the CDC. About one in 10 children who are infected develop pneumonia, while in one in 250 get the disease that affects the brain, called encephalopathy.
In the first half of the year, California has seen nearly 1,500 reports of pertussis. That compares to a little more than 300 cases in the first part of 2009, according to the California Department of Public Health.
As for the smaller outbreaks in other states, Liang cautioned that reporting by local and state public health dep
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