School has begun and soon flu season will follow, causing a slew of coughs, colds, and sniffles to travel across playgrounds from one Hermosa student to another. But this season, students may not be battling your ordinary common cold.
The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health released a back-to-school health advisory this week on the latest epidemic: pertussis, also known as the "whooping cough."
"Right now, a big concern is pertussis," said Dr. Jonathan Fielding, the county's director of public health and health officer, in the advisory. "Statewide, the numbers of pertussis cases have reached epidemic levels."
The disease is vaccine-preventable, yet there have already been more than 3,000 pertussis cases in California. The whooping cough mimics symptoms of a common cold or flu, but takes on the form of a highly contagious respiratory tract infection.
Starting with a cough and runny nose for one to two weeks, the illness is followed by weeks or months of rapid coughing fits.
Due to the unusual number of cases for the whooping pandemic, the state Department of Public Health recommends that all children, adolescents, and adults get vaccinated with the pertussis booster vaccine, called "Tdap."
Hermosa Beach parent Paige Howe said that she took these precautions for both her and her newborn baby, but noticed that it was troublesome finding a pediatrician who carried the vaccination.
"It's definitely scary," Howe said, adding that she heard infants died earlier this summer in Los Angeles due to whooping cough.
"If it's an epidemic, it should be more readily available," she said. "I don't want to take [my newborn] to the gym because I know people there won't be vaccinated."
So far, Hermosa Beach public schools have no reported cases of whooping cough, according to Karen Clemison, Hermosa Valley School's office manager.
But despite the rarity of the pertussis bacteria in Hermosa schools, the county Department of Public Health urges these health and safety tips to prevent illness:
▪ Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after using the restroom and before eating.
▪ Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth, as germs are spread more easily through these areas.
▪ Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue or sleeve.
▪ Stay home from work, school or daycare if your child is sick.
The department also recommends that the following groups of people be vaccinated with Tdap:
▪ Anyone 7 years and older who is not fully immunized, including those who are more than 64 years old.
▪ Women of childbearing age.
▪ Anyone who cares for infants, particularly those under 3 months of age.