Whooping Cough Epidemic Hits California

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Whooping cough may have been a thing of the past, but now it’s sweeping through California.

With more than 3,400 new cases reported between January 1 and June 10 this year, whooping cough (also known as pertussis) has officially reached epidemic proportions, the California Department of Public Health reports.

In its early stages, pertussis mimics the common cold, so it is often not suspected or diagnosed until more severe symptoms appear. It begins with a runny nose that goes away in a few days (the classic fake-out). Right when you think your “cold” is over, a gut-wrenching, sweat-inducing cough—which can last for weeks—begins.

While the name "whooping cough" comes from the sound people make gasping for air after a coughing fit, not everyone infected will cough, and and many who do will not "whoop.” Infants may not cough at all—instead, they may have life-threatening pauses in breathing in which their faces turn red or purple. Adults usually show fewer symptoms, so they may spread it without even knowing it. Because someone with pertussis can infect up to 12 to 15 other people, it’s important to see your doctor, even if you are not “whooping.”

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Most people don’t know that you can still get whooping cough even if you are vaccinated, says Ron Chapman, M.D., director of the California Department of Public Health. Pertussis vaccines typically offer high levels of protection within the first two years of getting vaccinated, but protection decreases over time. Keeping up-to-date with the recommended vaccines is the best way to protect you and your loved ones, so adults should get a booster at 19 and then once every 10 years after that. If you're at a higher risk for whooping cough (for example, if you have asthma), be sure to speak to your doctor and get vaccinated more often. And remember what mom says—cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze!

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