Because a recent whooping cough outbreak in California has killed five infants and sickened 910 people, Utah health officials are asking residents to protect themselves by vaccinating their children and getting their own booster shots if they already haven't done so.
Whooping cough, or pertussis, is a bacterial disease that passes from person to person. So far three or four cases have been confirmed each month since the beginning of the year in Weber County and six so far this month. Davis County is reporting seven cases since the beginning of the year.
"It's especially hard on infants," said Weber-Morgan Health Department public information officer Lori Buttars. "Children are required to get the vaccine throughout their childhood and school years, but adults are also susceptible. Even if you did receive the vaccine, immunity fades over time, and it's recommended that people get a booster once every 10 years."
Brian Hatch, epidemiologist for Davis County Health Department, said about 90 percent of children have been vaccinated in the county. However, those who do not vaccinate their children with DTaP or who haven't received their own booster are vulnerable to the infection.
"It's really problematic in an infant who hasn't been fully protected by the immunization," he said. "The vaccine is given in a series of doses, so the first dose isn't going to provide full protection. In their first year of life, if they get this disease it can be very serious. They cough so much they can't catch their breath."
Hatch said the California outbreak is a concern because it opens the door for more exposure.
"We have people who travel to and from California, so while we're not overly concerned, we have to be diligent and recognize that we do have a vulnerable population," he said.
Dr. John Allred, a pediatrician at Ogden Clinic said he has seen only two cases in his office this year. The first was a month-old who had to be hospitalized.
"We found it was her mother who had been sick with whooping cough, but it was the baby who suffered the most," Allred said. "She required oxygen supplementation, IV fluids and Azithromycin (an antibiotic) for five days as well as supportive care."
Pertussis is highly contagious, Allred said. Symptoms include a dry cough, fever, runny nose, nasal congestion and sneezing. Symptoms can progress to severe, prolonged coughing attacks that can cause vomiting, extreme fatigue, a high-pitched "whoop" sound during the next breath of air and turning red or blue in the face and gasping for air.
Complications from pertussis can include pneumonia, cracked ribs, dehydration, seizures, ear infections, brain damage and death. Allred said since the vaccine was discovered, the annual death rate of 8,000 has dropped to about eight. Unfortunately, he said, the California situation shows that the significant success story is sinking.
"The reason for the resurgence of pertussis in California is that adults were not immunized properly," Allred said. "California could experience its worst pertussis epidemic in half a century if infections continue at the current rate."
Hatch said DTaP should be given beginning at the age of two months. A second and third dose are given at four and six months, followed by a booster at age 13. Boosters should then be given every 10 years.
"The more of the community vaccinated, the less it can take a foothold and spread," he said. "California is having an outbreak, and Utah could have one, too, if we don't do our due diligence and get vaccinated."