An outbreak of pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough is spreading. Health officials are urging Texans to get vaccinated.

Several states including Texas, have reported a rise in whooping cough cases. The Texas Department of Health and local health departments are focusing on protecting infants as they continue to battle a surge in the number of whooping cough cases around the state.

Texas has reported 1,783 cases of whooping cough so far this year. Florida has 145 reported cases with 23 of those cases reported in infants younger than three months old. There have been 610 cases reported in Michigan.

California health officials have declared whooping cough an epidemic in the state with 6,2000 confirmed or probable cases and the deaths of several infants.

Nine of the 10 infants who have died were too young to be fully vaccinated against the disease. A 6-week-old baby in San Diego county was the latest victim in this year’s epidemic – the worst in 55 years. The previous record was set in 1955 when there were 4,949 reported cases.

Health department statistics show the number of whooping cough cases in Texas has risen by almost 60 percent in the state since 2008. Investigators from the health department are closely monitoring all reported cases.

The biggest increase in infections is in central Texas, with more infections reported in Tarrant County in north Texas. Dallas County has not reported an increase in whooping cough cases. Numbers are not high enough yet to declare epidemic or outbreak status.

A federal advisory panel is recommending that people 65 and older who are around infants get vaccinated against whooping cough. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices gave the advice Wednesday because of an outbreak of whooping cough this year.

Whooping cough, or pertussis, is named for the wheezing sound, or “whoop,” sufferers make when they try to breathe during a coughing fit.

About two-thirds of infants who get pertussis will be hospitalized, according to the Center for Disease Control. About one in 10 children who are infected develop pneumonia, while in one in 250 get the disease that affects the brain, called encephalopathy.

Vaccination guidelines call for children to receive doses of pertussis vaccine at 2 months, 4 month, 6 months, between 15 and 18 months and then again at school age, between 4 to 6 years. Children should also receive a booster between the ages of 11 and 12.

Texas Department of State Health Services has released the following:

What are the symptoms of pertussis?

Pertussis may begin like a cold, with a runny nose, sneezing, mild fever, and cough. After one to two weeks, the cough gets worse and usually starts occurring in strong coughing fits. This type of coughing may last for six or more weeks. There is generally no fever during this time. In young children, coughing fits are often followed by a “whooping” sound as they try to catch their breath. After coughing, a person may vomit, have difficulty catching their breath, or become blue in the face. The coughing spells may be so bad that it is hard for babies to eat, drink, or breathe. The cough is often worse at night, and cough medicines usually do not help reduce the cough. Between coughing spells, the person often appears to be well. Some babies may only have apnea (failure to breathe) and can die from this. Children who have been vaccinated against pertussis as well as adults and teens often have milder symptoms that mimic bronchitis or asthma.

How is pertussis spread?

The pertussis bacteria live in the nose, mouth, and throat, and are sprayed into the air when an infected person sneezes, coughs, or talks. Other people nearby can then inhale the bacteria. The first symptoms usually appear within 5 days to 21 days after a person is infected.

Is pertussis dangerous?

It can be, especially for babies. Pertussis can cause failure to breathe (apnea), pneumonia, and swelling of the brain (encephalopathy), which can lead to seizures and brain damage. Death from pertussis is rare, but more common with babies. Pertussis causes about 10 to 20 deaths each year in the United States.

How is pertussis diagnosed?

A doctor may diagnose a patient with pertussis because of their symptoms. To confirm the diagnosis, the doctor will swab the back of the nose for laboratory testing. It is important to remember laboratory tests may be negative even if a patient has pertussis.

How is pertussis treated?

Antibiotics are used to treat the infected person and their close contacts. In addition, it is helpful to get plenty of rest and fluids. Persons hospitalized with severe pertussis may need special treatments to help them through prolonged periods of coughing.

Can pertussis be prevented?

Pertussis can be prevented among household members and others in close contact with an infected person by treating the exposed persons with antibiotics, even if they have been vaccinated.

Vaccination of children and adults can also prevent pertussis. The pertussis vaccine is given along with diphtheria and tetanus vaccines in the same shot (called DTaP) for children. DTaP cannot be given to babies less than six weeks old or to anyone seven years of age or older.

Experts recommend that all babies and children be given a full series of DTaP vaccine unless there is a medical reason not to receive the vaccine. Vaccination is recommended at 2, 4, 6, and 15 to 18 months old with an additional shot at four to six years old, for a total of five doses.

1. Vaccination against pertussis is also recommended for some older children and adults. Because vaccine protection begins to fade in older children and adults, new vaccines (called Tdap) have been developed against pertussis for these age groups. To protect babies from being exposed to pertussis, families who have or are expecting a baby and people who work with babies should consult with their doctor about receiving this vaccine.

Most hospitalizations and deaths occur in children younger than three months of age. When possible, babies should be kept away from people who are coughing. Babies with any coughing should be seen by a doctor.

Is the pertussis vaccine safe?

Yes, it is safe for most people. A vaccine, like any medicine, could possibly cause serious problems, such as severe allergic reactions. However, the risk of a vaccine causing serious harm, or death, is extremely small. There is a slight risk of side effects caused by the vaccine.

Where can you get more information? Call your doctor, nurse, local health department, or the Texas Department of State Health Services, Immunization Branch at (800) 252-9152