From January 1 to June 10 this year, California already had 3,458 cases of whopping cough, which already exceeds the number of cases reported in 2013, and following a surge in the incidence of the disease in the past two weeks, health official found it necessary to declare an epidemic.

On Friday, the state department of health announced that the incidence of whooping cough in California has reached epidemic level with 23 percent of all documented cases in 2014 reported in the past two weeks alone. Sonoma, Marin and Napa counties were the hardest hit and those affected were mostly infants, children and teenagers.

Whooping cough, or pertussis, is a contagious bacterial disease that primarily affects children and can be particularly dangerous and deadly for babies. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that about half of young children below 1 year old who contracted the disease get hospitalized.

The disease often starts with cold-like symptoms and mild cough which would later develop into more violent coughing fits characterized by high-pitched "whoop" that makes breathing difficult. The disease, which is spread through sneezing and coughing, causes nearly 295,000 deaths worldwide per year.

The whooping cough incidence in California this year has so far resulted in two infant deaths and 119 hospitalizations. Babies that are too young to get vaccinated are the ones who are most vulnerable to the disease prompting health officials to urge those who will be around newborns to get themselves vaccinated.

In its statement, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) said that Tdap vaccination, which provides protection against diphtheria, tetanus (lockjaw), and whooping cough, in pregnant women would protect their babies who are too young to get immunized. It also urged pregnant women to get immunized regardless if they had previous Tdap vaccinations.

CDPH director Ron Chapman also urged parents to get their children vaccinated the soonest time possible. Babies who are at least 6 weeks old can already be given the first dose of whooping cough vaccine. Older children and adults were advised to get vaccinated as well.

 "Unlike some other vaccine-preventable diseases, like measles, neither vaccination nor illness from pertussis offers lifetime immunity," Chapman said. "However, vaccination is still the best defense against this potentially fatal disease."

CDPH epidemiologist Gil Chavez said that a disease is considered an epidemic when it surpasses anticipated levels. The average number of whooping cases expected each month is 80 to 100 but California counties had more than 800 in the last two weeks alone.

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