LOS ANGELES — State health officials reported yesterday that California is on track to break a 55-year record in whooping cough infections in an epidemic that has already claimed the lives of nine babies.
At least 4,017 cases of the highly contagious illness have been reported in California. Data from the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control show 11,466 cases nationwide, though the federal numbers are known to lag behind local reporting.
Whooping cough is a cyclical illness that peaks in number of infections every five years. Symptoms are similar to the common cold, making it a challenge to diagnose, which in turn makes it difficult for officials to determine if the worst has passed, said Dr. Gil Chavez, state epidemiologist for the California Department of Public Health.
A persistent cough that lasts weeks is the telltale symptom of the illness, which is also known as pertussis. The state is on track to exceed the record 4,949 cases reported in 1955. The bacterial infection tends to peak during summer months, but infections could continue into coming weeks, said Chavez.
All of the whooping cough-related deaths in California occurred in babies too young to be fully immunized against the illness. That has prompted authorities to urge parents and caretakers to get booster shots.