Calif. cites vaccination effort for zero whooping cough deaths in 2011

After a whooping cough epidemic in 2010 that led to the deaths of 10 infants, public health officials in California launched a major vaccination effort and public awareness campaign about the disease.

The program has been credited with the state having no deaths from the disease in 2011, which is the first time that has occurred in two decades. According to the California Department of Public Health, the number of cases in the state dropped from 9,154 in 2010 to 2,795 in 2011, the Los Angeles Times reports.

"Controlling an outbreak is huge," Gil Chavez, the deputy director of infectious diseases for the state, said, according to the Los Angeles Times. "It really happens in a partnership."

The state worked closely with hospitals, schools, doctors and clinics to get more people vaccinated against whooping cough, also known as pertussis. A bacterial disease that infects the respiratory system, pertussis can be most harmful to infants because they cannot be fully vaccinated until they are six months old.

"That is probably the most important thing," James Cherry, a pediatrics professor at UCLA and an expert in pertussis, said, according to the Los Angeles Times. "If you get babies in hospitals, in ICUs, they are more likely to survive."

In addition, the state passed a law in 2010 requiring that students entering grades seven through 12 get immunized. Most children receive their vaccinations for pertussis before that, but it tends to wane after approximately five years.

"I don't think there was a lot of awareness of the transmission of this from older siblings," Jonathan Fielding, the Los Angeles County director of public health, said, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Fielding said that by continuing to be vigilant, health officials in California can make sure the pertussis numbers don't increase again.

"We have to make sure we don't let our guard down," Fielding said, according to the Los Angeles Times.