By Susan Abram, Staff Writer | LA Daily News | http://bit.ly/kEXYcU
06/19/2011 08:05:50 PM PDT - Cases of whooping cough continue to rise this year, prompting state health officials to press parents to get their children inoculated with the pertussis vaccine before the start of the 2011-2012 school session.
The state has confirmed 1,189 cases for January through April - nearly double the number from the same period last year, and 10 times the number from the first quarter of 2009.
"While it is too early to know if this year will reach the same high levels of this debilitating disease, California is currently experiencing more cases than would be typically expected, but fortunately no fatalities," Dr. Howard Backer, interim director of the California Department of Public Health, said in a statement.
The state advisory comes just as school districts are scrambling to make sure students comply with a state law that takes effect July 1. The law requires all students entering the seventh grade and beyond to show proof that their inoculations, including Tdap, are up to date before they attend class.
More than 1 million students across California have yet to be vaccinated, state health officials said.
Within the Los Angeles Unified School District, there are nearly 250,000 7-12 graders but only about half can prove they have received their dose of Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis vaccine).
"We're concerned that students are not really getting out and getting it done right now and they should be," said Barbara Woodard-Cox, team leader for the communicable disease control unit at LAUSD.
She said her team emphasizes the need for nurses, teachers, and principals to urge parents to make sure their children get vaccinated.
"We've made banners. We've made buttons. We've made fliers," Woodard-Cox said. "This is not a pandemic at this point, but this is an epidemic."
Students who don't have proof of the vaccination will not be allowed to sit in class, she said.
Woodard-Cox also said a few parents have opted out of getting their children vaccinated. The reasons vary, from children who have underlying health issues to parents who have personal beliefs against vaccines.
Parents who opt out have to sign a special waiver, she said.
"The waiver points out in detail the consequences of the illness and if there's a case in the school, your child may be sent home for three weeks or more because we want to make sure students are safe," Woodard-Cox said.
Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is an infection of the respiratory system. It is characterized by severe coughing spells that end in a whooping sound.
Infants younger than 6 months old are affected because they are not yet protected by immunizations. Children and teens age 11 to 18 years old also are at risk, because immunity from booster shots have faded.
At one time, the number of deaths nationwide ranged from 5,000 to 10,000 people each year.
Vaccines have helped to reduce the number of deaths annually to 30.
But in recent years, the number of cases has leaped, including in California. Last year, there were 9,120 cases reported in California, the most since 1947.
Ten infants died last year as well. Nine of them were less than 2 months old.
Part of this year's increase could be due to a raised awareness among physicians and health departments, who are reporting cases to the state, said Gil Chavez, epidemiologist for California's Department of Public Health.
Cases are distributed evenly throughout the state, he said.
"We hope that by now most of the children that are eligible (have been vaccinated), but we hear from local schools and health departments that many many children are left not immunized," he said.
Pertussis tends to increase in the summer months, Chavez said, and he fears parents will wait until August to take their children to be inoculated.
Some of the hesitation is caused by parents who fear side effects from vaccines, and that's why local and state agencies need to continue to provide information on the Tdap vaccine.
"I know people are concerned about autism, but there's no link to autism. Vaccines are safe," he said. "We're really hoping people make decisions based on real evidence, and the evidence is the pertussis vaccine is very safe and very effective for at least five years."
Last week there were 24 cases reported in Los Angeles County, although not all have been confirmed, said Dr.Jonathan Fielding, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.
"The numbers are certainly much higher than they should be for a vaccine-preventable disease," Fielding said