It can look like a common cold in adults, but can act like a deadly disease in infants. It usually starts out as a sniffle and a cough, but can progress to violent fits of hacking that end in vomiting. In California, whooping cough, or pertussis, was declared an epidemic in June and has caused the death of nine infants younger than three months old.
“Pertussis is extremely contagious,” said Contra Costa public health nurse, Susan Farley, “and it’s not on everyone’s radar.”
The County Public Health Department is now offering reduced-cost vaccines to residents, and the county’s website offers a coupon for a free whooping cough vaccine (called a Tdap vaccine). People can also get the fee for vaccines waived at the public health immunization clinic.
Part of the reason the illness can go undiagnosed is that its first symptoms—runny nose, coughing, and sneezing—mirror those of a common cold. Most adults who were vaccinated as children no longer have immunity. If adults contract the bacteria, they can unknowingly pass it to infants and young children, who are the most vulnerable.
Health officials say it’s important for adults who have contact with children to get a booster shot.
Sabrina Raj, 19, of San Pablo, got vaccinated yesterday at Richmond’s clinic. She lives with her cousin, who recently had a baby and Raj wants to keep him safe. “You don’t want someone to die in your own family,” said Raj. “Let alone someone in another family. That’s how I think about it.”
San Pablo resident Christie Fernandez was also in line for vaccines. Fernandez said Kaiser used to remind her when her daughter was due for vaccinations, but said she lost the insurance recently when she was laid off from her accounting job.
She said she was in the welfare office applying for Medi-Cal when an employee told her about the county vaccinations. Her daughter Annabelle, 1, has had three shots of the whooping cough series. The series is four or five shots depending on when the child gets them.
There have been 135 cases of whooping cough in Contra Costa County this year—compared to 18 last year—and cases seem to be declining since a spike in July, Farley said.
The Contra Costa County Public Health Department offers vaccinations every Monday from 1-4:30 p.m. at the Richmond Health Center. Other areas of the county also host immunization clinics; times and locations vary weekly and can be found at 1.800.246.2494.