The California Department of Public Health issued a warning Monday, particularly to pregnant women, about the prevalence and danger of whooping cough, and the need to increase the vaccination rate against the disease.
Whooping cough, also called pertussis, can be deadly for infants and is responsible for one infant death already this year, according to Karen Smith, director of the state Public Health department.
Smith said, so far this year, there have been 126 infant hospitalizations due to whooping cough, along with the death of one baby -- and they're preventable, she said.
"Right now, it's estimated that fewer than half of all pregnant women in California are vaccinated against whooping cough," Smith said. "We need to increase that number to help improve the health of our children and of our communities."
Pregnant women need to receive the whooping cough vaccination in the last trimester of each pregnancy, Smith said, because the immunity decreases over time. Getting the vaccine is critical to stemming the spread of the illness, she said, which can be particularly dangerous for children under the age of one.
"Vaccinated mothers pass protective antibodies to their infants during pregnancy," Smith said.
The whooping cough vaccine called Tdap is designed to prevent tetanus and diphtheria, as well as pertussis. Whooping cough causes a severe, persistent cough, sometimes strong enough to make infants vomit.
In 2014, the state declared a whooping cough epidemic and reported the highest rate of the disease since the 1950s, Smith said.
The higher incidence of whooping cough in California, along with last year's measles outbreak that originated at Disneyland, led to legislation signed last month by Gov. Jerry Brown that eliminated the religious and "personal belief" exemptions for childhood immunizations.
That law goes into effect July 1, 2016.