Whooping Cough Epidemic in California Triggers Local Concern

Wednesday, July 7, 2010 - 5:27am

Public Health Urges Vaccination Protection for Children and Adults

Watching your child cough until she turns blue is a horrifying experience. Yet many parents in California are now having that awful experience because that state is experiencing a pertussis (whooping cough) outbreak with approximately 1500 reported cases including several fatalities among babies.

In 2004, Dane County had over 850 cases of whooping cough although in 2009, there were only 23 cases.

Public Health staff who monitor these outbreaks don't know precisely why this is happening now, but pertussis seems to occur in cycles - that is, every five years or so, pertussis cases increase markedly.

Based on this situation Public Health is recommending that parents and health care professionals make a continued effort to make sure that children are immunized. The needed vaccine (DTaP) should be given in a scheduled series at
• 2 months of age,
• at 4 months,
• at 6 months,
• at 15 to 18 months,
• and the fifth, at 4 - 6 years of age

Tdap vaccinations are also important for teens especially since, as of September 2010, it is required for students in grades 6-12.

In Dane County, only 79% of all children turning 2 years old in 2009 had had all 4 of their DTaP shots.

Recently a combined vaccine covering tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (Tdap) became available to immunize older kids and adults to provide a booster dose to prevent the loss of immunity that happens over time. This combined vaccine not only protects those who get the vaccine but also helps protect those around them, especially including the smallest and most vulnerable members of our community.

Since babies under 2 months cannot get the vaccine, and the vaccine is not fully effective until 3 doses are given, one new strategy to protect them from exposure is to make sure that their mom is immunized right after she has the baby. When you also make sure that the rest of the family; dad and other kids, grandma, grandpa, aunts uncles, cousins and daycare providers are also immunized, this provides a "cocoon of safety" protecting the baby from the risk of pertussis infection.

Pertussis starts like the common cold, with runny nose or congestion, sneezing, and maybe a mild cough or fever. But after 1-2 weeks, severe coughing begins. Infants and children with the disease cough violently and rapidly, over and over, until the air is gone from their lungs and they're forced to inhale with a loud "whooping" sound. The following link provides audio examples of what these coughs sound like. http://health.utah.gov/epi/diseases/pertussis/pertussis_sounds.htm

To make sure that your baby and other family members do not have to suffer this serious but preventable disease, make sure to take the following steps:
• check your family's immunization records and make sure they have had the vaccine on schedule. If not, get them in soon.
• ask your doctor to give you the shot if you've just had a baby and haven't had a booster recently
• keep your babies away from people with colds and coughs
• practice good "cough hygiene".

As Dr. Tom Schlenker, Director of Public Health Madison and Dane County said: "The effort to protect our families against whooping cough, as well as other preventable illnesses is really a collaboration between families, doctors, clinics and Public Health. Please protect our little citizens by making sure that the DTaP vaccine is on your family to-do list. Keep in mind that infants, the most vulnerable group, can be doubly protected: first by getting them promptly vaccinated according to schedule and second by making sure all family members, adults as well as children, are also vaccinated."

For more detailed information on pertussis (whooping cough), and vaccination details, see the following links:




Public Health Madison & Dane County


  • Jeff Golden(608) 243-0302