Whooping cough outbreak hits nation, but California has been fortunate

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Pharmacist Kristy Hennessee administers a vaccination against whooping cough (pertussis), at a Walgreen's Pharmacy in Pasadena, California.

U.S. health officials are bracing for the worst whooping cough outbreak in more than 50 years.

Whooping cough is reaching epidemic levels throughout much of the nation this year. The Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the number of cases nationwide has more than doubled compared to this time last year.

The agency says nearly 18,000 cases of whooping cough have afflicted U.S. residents in 2012, killing nine children so far. Health officials warn that if this surge continues, this year will become the worst year for the contagious bacterial infection nationwide since 1959.

But in California, the news is a lot brighter, said Kathleen Harriman, an epidemiologist with the California Department of Public Health.

“We’re very fortunate in 2012 to not be seeing what’s being seen in many of the other states this year," she said. "We had an epidemic in 2010 in California and right now we’re on the downward side of that epidemic."

This year Harriman’s office has recorded 400 cases of whooping cough statewide. She expects that number to climb no higher than about 1,000 by the end of the year — making this a non-peak year for the infection in California.

Public health officials believe the outbreaks may stem from a change in the vaccination formula that may have made the injection safer, but possibly not as effective.

Nevertheless, health officials continue to recommend the full series of whooping cough shots for children — beginning at two months of age.

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