An infant has died from whooping cough, marking the first confirmed death from pertussis -- the disease's technical term -- since 2010, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) announced Friday.
The 2-month-old infant was from Riverside County, but the health department could not provide additional case information because of privacy laws.
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“This baby’s death is a tragedy for the family, and for California as a community,” Dr. Ron Chapman, state health officer and director of CDPH, said in a statement. “And this is a preventable disease.”
Whooping cough is usually cyclical with spikes in incidences occurring every three to five years, but there were more cases than usual in 2013 according to data released by CDPH. The department alluded to California’s 2010 whooping cough epidemic, which saw more than 9,100 cases, including 10 reported deaths.
Chapman said the paramount goal in pertussis control is ensuring that all pregnant women receive vaccinations.
Pregnant women who are vaccinated pass the immunity they develop onto their infants until the children are old enough to be vaccinated, he said.
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"This [death] serves as a sad reminder that illnesses like whooping cough are still very much with us, and immunizations are the first line of defense," Dr. Cameron Kaiser, the public health officer for Riverside County Department of Public Health, said.
Booster shots are imperative, health officials said, as neither the disease itself nor the vaccine provides lifelong immunity.
CDPH officials told NBC4 whooping cough cases have been increasing since 1990. Two years ago, 2012 saw 1,022 cases of the disease, health officials said, and the next year, 2013, saw more than double that: 2,372.
It is too early in the year, however, to say what will happen with regard to 2014's pertussis cases, CDPH officials said.
Dr. Bruce Hensel, chief medical editor and correspondent for NBC4, said: "It's important for people of all ages to get the vaccine.
"What most people don't realize is that adults may be a major cause for the spread of whooping cough: Many adults make sure their children get the vaccine but fail to get it for themselves," he said. "As a result many are 'carriers' and may spread the infection to everyone in their community."
To avoid the spread of the disease, NBC's Dr. Bruce recommends:
- Pregnant women should receive the vaccination during the third trimester of each pregnancy.
- Infants should be taken in for three doses of the vaccination: with the first at six weeks of age, and last at six months of age.
- Children should be vaccinated at two years old, before kindergarten and around 11 to 12 years old.
- Adults should ask their doctor if they need a booster; in some cases a blood test might be necessary to see if adults are still immune or need a vaccine.
The CDPH on Friday also released an influenza update with data from the beginning of the month.
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Based on the onset of flu reports, the number of deaths per week are decreasing, health officials said.
CDPH added that most indicators are down from their peak levels; however, it's too eartly to conclude the flu season is coming to an end.
The department has confirmed 56 new deaths -- for a total of 202 -- and is investigating 41 pending cases.
Health officials are underlining the fact that it is not too late to get vaccinated, with a glut of weeks left in the flu season.
NBC4's Hetty Chang contributed to this report.