Whooping Cough Epidemic Rages in California: 5 Babies Dead, 910 Infected

Whooping cough epidemic hits California. (iStockphoto/CBS)
Whooping cough epidemic hits California.

LOS ANGELES (CBS/AP) After 910 cases of whooping cough that have left five babies dead, California has had enough. The state is calling the outbreak an epidemic. The number of infections is on pace to break a 50-year record.

It's not the kind of record you want to beat.

"Children should be vaccinated against the disease and parents, family members and caregivers of infants need a booster shot," California Department of Public Health director Dr. Mark Horton said Wednesday.

Officials fear the surge in whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is about to get much worse. Six hundred cases are under investigation. The case load this year is 400 percent higher than last.

A typical case starts with a cough and runny nose for one to two weeks, followed by weeks or months of rapid coughing fits that sometimes end with a whooping sound. Fever is rare.

Unimmunized or incompletely immunized babies are particularly vulnerable. Three vaccines are administered for whooping cough, from 2 to 6 months of age. Neither getting vaccinated nor surviving the illness provides lifetime immunity.

Health officials say whooping cough is cyclical and tends to peak every two to five years.