No Whooping Cough Deaths Last Year in California

Pharmacist administers whooping cough vaccine. (Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

Pharmacist administers whooping cough vaccine. (Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

You know public health is working when nothing bad happens. Last year, for the first time in 20 years, California had no deaths from whooping cough, a highly contagious illness also called pertussis.

The California Department of Public Health credits a statewide vaccination effort which followed a 2010 outbreak when 9,000 Californians were diagnosed and nine infants died. In 2011, in addition to no deaths, the number of cases of the illness dropped to 3,000.

As the Los Angeles Times reports:

“Controlling an outbreak is huge,” said Dr. Gil Chavez, deputy director of infectious diseases for the state. “It really happens in a partnership.”

The state worked closely with doctors, hospitals, schools and clinics to get more people vaccinated and to get pertussis identified and treated earlier, Chavez said.

Pertussis is a bacterial disease that infects the respiratory system. Children and adults may have severe coughing with a whooping sound at the end of a spasm. Infants may have a runny nose and a cough without the whoop sound.

Chavez said that the deaths can also be prevented if cases are identified and treated quickly, usually with antibiotics. “To have gone through a year like 2011 with 3,000 cases and having no fatalities is pretty remarkable,” he said.

Immunity from pertussis vaccines can fade over time so booster shots are needed. A new state law requires students in 7th – 12th grades to get a “DTaP” booster shot, which protects against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis.