Whooping cough is now at epidemic levels in California and the state could record the highest number of illnesses and death due to the disease in 50 years, the state's top health official said Wednesday.The New York Times reports that the disease is most widespread in the migrant farm worker communities and among those who don't know to get vaccinated.
Reported cases of whooping cough, also known as pertussis, have quadrupled over the same time period last year, said Dr. Mark Horton, director of the California Department of Public Health. Five infants — all under 3 months — have died, including two in Los Angeles County and one in San Bernardino County.
Whooping cough is a bacterial disease that infects the respiratory system. There have been 910 confirmed cases of the highly contagious disease in California between Jan. 1 and June 15. During the same time last year, 219 cases were confirmed.
An additional 600 possible cases are being investigated.
Dr. Chavez said that lack of information and inoculations in agricultural regions in the state’s Central Valley — home to many Latino farm workers — might be a culprit in the high incidence in that community. And indeed, Fresno County — in the heart of the valley — has the highest number of cases in the state, with 72 reported in May alone.This is a wholly preventable disease through vaccination, and those in the anti-vaccination junk science crowd have reduced vaccination rates because of their fear-mongering and made it more difficult for public health experts to limit the spread of these kinds of diseases.
Periodic outbreaks of pertussis are not uncommon. The disease is endemic worldwide, and some 5,000 to 7,000 cases are reported in the United States in a normal year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Epidemics occur every three to five years in the United States, with the most recent in 2005, when there were more than 25,000 reported cases nationwide, and nearly 3,200 in California, where 7 people died.
The deaths and illnesses could have been prevented with proper inoculations.