Long Beach Hospitals and Health Department Work Together to Combat Whooping Cough Epidemic

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pertussis-cough-250x250 Hospitals and Health Department Work TogetherWhooping cough (pertussis) has been declared an epidemic in California this year, with case numbers projected to be the highest in 50 years. Almost 2800 people in the state have been sickened with the disease, with 159 hospitalizations and 7 deaths (all deaths have been in infants less than 2 months of age). Long Beach has had 31 cases to date this year, compared to only 8 cases at this time last year.

Pertussis is contagious, and is spread by coughing or sneezing. Pertussis causes a severe, long-lasting cough illness in adolescents and adults; complications are rare in this age group, but days to weeks of school or work may be missed. However, complications are more common in infants who get infected before they are fully vaccinated; they can become very ill and require hospitalization or even die from pertussis. Seventy-five percent of the recent hospitalizations statewide have been in infants less than 6 months of age. Pertussis vaccine has been available for infants over 2 months of age  and young children for many years, but the protection it gives decreases over time; a booster vaccine for older children and adults called “Tdap” (tetanus/diphtheria/acellular pertussis) was finally licensed in 2005. A Tdap booster can take the place of a tetanus booster, and is recommended for children between the ages of 11 and 18 and for all adults.

In order to combat the epidemic, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) initiated a program that has made free vaccine available to birthing hospitals to vaccinate new mothers and family members who will be close to newborn infants.  Most infants get infected by a close family member or caretaker, so to protect newborns, health officials recommend Tdap booster vaccination of all older children and adults in the family, as well as any other caretakers of the infant. All 3 birthing hospitals in Long Beach (Long Beach Memorial Medical Center/Miller Children’s Hospital, St. Mary’s Medical Center and Pacific Hospital of Long Beach), have signed up for the program and are in the process of implementing protocols to routinely offer the vaccine to women after they give birth. The City of Long Beach Department of Health and Human Services (Health Department) is assisting the hospitals with advice, coordination of efforts, educational materials and additional vaccine. The hospitals and the Health Department are also working on plans to offer vaccine to the family members of newborns. Health officials are urging families who are expecting babies to take advantage of this program and to get vaccinated before the baby’s arrival to ensure protection.

Tdap is available through many local healthcare providers and at the Health Department.  Appointments for vaccines at the Health Department may be made by calling 562-570-4315. For more information on whooping cough, please call the Health Department’s Immunization Program at 562-570-4212 or visit the Long Beach Health Department’s website.

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