By Jamie Stengle
DALLAS — The number of people sick with whooping cough in Texas is on track to reach the highest level in more than 50 years, state health officials said Tuesday.
“It’s a big concern, particularly because of the impact it can have on young children,” said Chris Van Deusen, a spokesman for the Texas Department of State Health Services.
Two infants — both too young to be vaccinated — have died from whooping cough this year in Texas. Six people in the state died from the illness last year.
The state health department is urging people to get vaccinated against the highly contagious bacterial infection that causes a severe cough. There have been almost 2,000 cases reported so far this year, with the annual total likely to surpass the recent high of 3,358 cases in 2009.
Whooping cough, or pertussis, often begins with cold-like symptoms and a mild cough. After a week or so, a severe cough can develop that lasts for several weeks.
The disease, which can be treated with antibiotics, is spread through the air when an infected person breathes, coughs or sneezes. Whooping cough vaccines became widely available in the 1940s.
Van Deusen said health officials have seen an increase in whooping cough in Texas over the last decade. He said reasons could include increased awareness of the disease and waning immunity from the vaccine. Last year, the U.S. suffered its worst year for whooping cough in nearly six decades. Alison Patti, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said more than 48,000 cases were reported in 2012 in the U.S. — the worst year since nearly 63,000 cases were reported in 1955.
But she said so far this year across the U.S., reported cases have declined. So far, 14,270 cases have been reported, compared with 32,680 for the same time period last year.
Children are routinely vaccinated with five doses beginning at 2 months, and a booster shot is recommended around age 11 or 12. Health officials also recommend that women get vaccinated during every pregnancy, which helps protect the mother, as well as the baby for its first 2 months. People in close contact with newborns should also be vaccinated.