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Deadly Whooping Cough is Nothing to Sneeze at

Once in a while, we have a major, widespread scare about a communicable disease. The whooping cough epidemic has risen to a level of concern.

The number of whooping cough (pertussis) cases reported so far this year is more than four times the number for the same period last year, and the state is on pace to have more cases in 2010 than in any year since 1958.

The disease causes people to cough so violently that it is hard to breathe. It is especially concerning because it’s highly contagious and infants are particularly vulnerable. Of the six deaths in California this year, five were infants under three months old; the sixth was a toddler.

Fortunately, we can protect ourselves, our families and our loved ones. Many of us were immunized during childhood, but neither the vaccine nor the illness provides lifetime immunity. The vaccine wears off by the time a child finishes middle school, so adolescents and adults need boosters.

Infants typically don’t have full immunity until they have had three shots (recommended at 2 months, 4 months and 6 months of age), so we protect them by immunizing the people around them. Most infants with whooping cough get the disease from their parents, so parents, family members and caregivers of infants should be re-vaccinated to provide a cocoon of protection around their babies.

Ask your doctor for the vaccine, or visit your local pharmacy (including those in supermarkets). Shasta County Public Health offers the vaccine for those who are unable to get it elsewhere.

As always, we encourage you to wash your hands frequently and cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze. This helps avoid the spread of numerous diseases, including whooping cough.

Questions about this or other health and wellness issues? Please visit www.shastahhsa.net. Wishing you good health this summer!

Symptoms of whooping cough:

About the vaccine:

Donnell Ewert, MPH, is director of Shasta County Public Health. While at Wheaton College, he participated in the Human Needs and Global Resources program, which included a seven-month internship in Honduras – an experience that sparked his interest in public health. He earned his master’s degree from UCLA after evaluating a program that used goats to increase the nutritional intake of malnourished children. He worked briefly as a health educator with migrant farm workers in Virginia before becoming an epidemiologist for the health departments in Los Angeles and the state of Indiana. Donnell came to Shasta County Public Health as an epidemiologist in 1999, after doing humanitarian health work in Kazakhstan. He has been the department director since 2007. He and his wife, Mary, have two teenage daughters.