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Texas Urges Vaccines in Wake of Whooping Cough Outbreak

Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is on track to sicken more people in Texas than have been affected in the past 50 years, prompting health officials in the state to urge that parents vaccinate their children--and make sure their own vaccines are up to date.  More from CNN:

The threat grows when one considers that scientists estimate 10 cases of pertussis, popularly known as whooping cough, occur for every one that is reported, she said in a telephone interview, adding, "We're clearly having an epidemic."

So far this year, Texas has tallied nearly 2,000 cases, two of them fatal, and the total is expected to exceed the 3,358 recorded in 2009, when the last such outbreak occurred, the Department of State Health Services said.

There does not appear to be any single explanation for the spike, said Chris Van Deusen, a spokesman for the department. "It really looks like several things working together," he said in a telephone interview, noting that outbreaks tend to occur in cycles. "We see a peak and a lot of people will be exposed and develop natural immunity," leading to fewer cases, he said. "Then it wears off and it (the number of cases) will go up again."

The numbers are a little squishy in the outbreak, in which cases have not been focused on any one area, he said. Awareness has increased and diagnostic tests have improved in recent years, meaning doctors may be identifying more cases than they used to, he said.

But there is no debate about the seriousness of the disease. As many as two in 100 adolescents and five in 100 adults with pertussis are hospitalized or have complications, including pneumonia and death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The federal health agency recommends that women get the vaccine during each pregnancy, ideally between the 27th and 36th week -- since an estimated 30% to 40% of babies who contract whooping cough get it from their mothers -- and that their children undergo a series of five pertussis vaccinations beginning at 2 months of age.

That first shot is to be followed by injections at 4 months and 6 months, and boosters at 15 to 18 months and again at 4 to 6 years of age so that children's immunity will be robust during the first months of life, when they are most vulnerable. Both of the Texas fatalities were younger than 2 months.

"We want to make sure that they are getting the immunizations on that schedule so that the waning immunity won't be as much of an issue," Van Deusen said.

Image: Child receiving vaccine, via Shutterstock