Pregnant women encouraged to get vaccinated against whooping cough

SAN DIEGO (KUSI) — County health officials are urging every pregnant woman to get vaccinated against pertussis as the region gears up for another possible whooping cough epidemic.

Pertussis, or whooping cough, is a cyclical disease that peaks every three to five years. The last epidemics were in 2010 and 2014. San Diego County last year had 1,154 cases, the highest of any county in California, according to the county Health and Human Services Agency.

“It’s critical for pregnant women and people who come into close contact with young infants to get vaccinated,” said county public health officer Dr. Wilma Wooten. “Newborns are very susceptible to whooping cough because they are too young to be fully vaccinated. It is vital for pregnant women to be vaccinated in the third trimester to give protection to their unborn infants.”

Fifty-six pertussis cases have been confirmed in the region since the start of the year, compared with 52 cases at this time last year. The last San Diego County death caused by the disease was reported in 2016 when a 5-week-old died from the illness.

“We see many young infants hospitalized every year at Rady Children’s so the increased number of cases this year is a concern,” said Dr. Mark H. Sawyer, pediatric infectious disease specialist at Rady Children’s Hospital. “These hospitalizations can be prevented if pregnant women make sure they are immunized during pregnancy to protect their infants beginning on their first day of life.”

A case of whooping cough often starts with a cough and runny nose for one to two weeks, followed by weeks to months of rapid coughing fits that sometimes end with a whooping sound. Fever, if present, is usually mild.

Treatment with antibiotics can lessen the severity of symptoms and prevent spread of the disease, according to the county.

Vaccines are available at doctors offices, community clinics and many pharmacies. Those without insurance can get vaccinated at one of seven county health clinics.

For more information about whooping cough and getting vaccinated, contact HHSA Immunization Branch at (866) 358-2966 or visit

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