California reports 5,270 cases of whooping cough

Healthcare officials in California reported this week that more than 5,270 cases of whooping cough, which has killed nine infants to date, have been reported in California.

Officials with the California Department of Public Health told the Associated Press that the illness has not infected so many people since a severe outbreak in 1955. In that year, officials said, 4,949 cases were reported.

Babies are usually given a series of vaccinations against whooping cough and then receive booster shots between the ages of four and six and again after age ten. All of the recent whooping cough deaths in California occurred in babies who were too young to be immunized against the illness, according to the Associated Press.

As a result, state health officials have urged parents and caretakers to get booster shots. Immunity from the pertussis vaccine decreases over time, so boosters are recommended every 10 years for adults.

A law signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last week will require all California junior high and high school students to get booster shots against whooping cough before school starts next year. In 2012, the law will also require students entering seventh grade to get the booster.

Whooping cough, or pertussis, is a cyclical illness that peaks in the number of infections every five years. Symptoms are similar to the common cold, making it difficult to diagnose.