TIME

California Warns of Whooping Cough Epidemic

California Department of Public Health urges people to vaccinate children as cases of pertussis increase rapidly

California health officials urged residents Friday to vaccinate their children as cases of whooping cough reached epidemic proportions in the state.

Nearly 3,460 cases of pertussis—whooping cough—have been reported to the California Department of Public Health this year, with over 800 cases reported in the past two weeks. More cases have been reported so far this year than in all of 2013. Two infant deaths have been reported.

“Preventing severe disease and death in infants is our highest priority,” said CDPH director Dr. Ron Chapman, in a statement. “We urge all pregnant women to get vaccinated. We also urge parents to vaccinate infants as soon as possible.”

Research published last year shows that the last epidemic of whooping cough in California in 2010 was due partially to parents who intentionally did not vaccinate their children.

A small but vocal group of parents have raised concerns that vaccines cause autism or other health problems, a belief that is scientifically unfounded and has worsened the spread of disease in the United States.

Pertussis starts among children with a cough and runny nose for one to two weeks, which then worsens and children may have rapid coughing spells that end with a “whooping” sound.

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