SALINAS, Calif. -

Monterey County health officials are urging people, especially pregnant women and infants, to get vaccinated in the wake of a statewide whooping cough epidemic. 3 infants have already died this year.

State health managers declared an epidemic last week as the number of cases of the illness, also called pertussis, continued to increase. As of June 24, more than 4,500 cases had been reported in the state in 2014. In Monterey County, 72 cases of pertussis have been reported in 2014 to date, compared to 10 reported cases at the same time last year. In 2010, the last epidemic year for pertussis in California, there were a total 132 cases all year and health managers say were on track to surpass that mark this year.

In Santa Cruz county, 87 cases were reported for all of 2010. As of May 2014, already 48 cases have been reported for the county.

Monterey County Director of Public Health Dr. Edward Moreno urges pregnant women to get vaccinated, "We are recommending that pregnant women get vaccinated during their third trimester, the reason is that she's developing antibodies to fight off the pertussis and can pass that onto to her unborn child."

“I also encourage parents to vaccinate their babies within the next 6 to 8 weeks, which helps babies strengthen their own immunity to pertussis," he said.

Adult healthcare workers and individuals who care for infants should receive a pertussis booster shot, called Tdap, so that they do not infect vulnerable individuals.

Pregnant women and members of their households can receive reduced-cost Tdap vaccinations at the Health Department’s Alisal Health Center in Salinas and Seaside Family Health Center. Contact these clinics directly for appointment times and availability.

Symptoms of whooping cough vary by age. In children, a typical case  starts with a cough and runny nose for one to two weeks. The cough then worsens, and the child may have rapid coughing spells that end with a whooping sound. Young infants may not have typical pertussis symptoms and may have no apparent cough.

So why an epidemic once again? Health managers say one reason for the increase is the use of acellular pertussis vaccines, which cause fewer reactions than the whole-cell vaccines that preceded them, but do not protect as long.

For information about immunizations, contact the Health Department’s Immunization Coordinator at 755-4683 or visit the Monterey County Health website.