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By Andrea Papagianis

Whooping cough diagnoses across California are on the rise and have far surpassed last year’s reported cases, causing the state public health officials to label the upsurge an epidemic.

Whooping cough is a highly contagious respiratory infection that typically starts with cold-like symptoms and develops into severe coughing. The virus usually lasts between one and six weeks and peaks every three to five years. The last uptick occurred in California in 2010.

As of Tuesday, June 10, nearly 3,500 cases of whooping cough, also known as pertussis, had been reported to the California Department of Public Health this year, compared to 2,530 cases reported in 2013. Of those reported, 119 patients have been hospitalized with 77 percent being under the age of 4 months. Two deaths, one of a 2-month-old who was 5 weeks at the time of diagnosis, have been reported.

A majority of cases, some 2,912 or 84 percent of whooping cough diagnoses, have occurred in infants and children under the age of 18. Of those, 2,090 pediatric cases were children between 7 and 16 years old, according to a CDPH report.

“Preventing severe disease and death in infants is our highest priority,” said Ron Chapman, CDPH director and state health officer, in a press release. “We urge all pregnant women to get vaccinated.”

Public health officials statewide are encouraging parents to vaccinate their infants as soon as possible. The first pertussis vaccine can be given as early as six weeks. Pregnant women are also advised to get vaccinated during their third trimester in order to protect their young infants.

Orange County Public Health officials are also urging children, adolescents and adults to consider vaccinations and have been working with the Capistrano Unified School District to educated parents and students on the infection’s rise.

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Sean Robb contributed to this report.

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