Pertussis, or whooping cough, has reached an epidemic level in California, according to Dr. Ron Chapman, director of the California Department of Public Health and state health officer cases. In the past two weeks more than 800 new cases have been reported.

As of last week, nearly 3,500 cases of pertussis had been reported to CDPH since January. This exceeds the 2,530 reported cases in all of 2013. Almost 85 percent of the cases this year have occurred in infants and children less than 18 years old.

Pertussis is cyclical and peaks every three to five years, and last peaked in California in 2010 when more than 9,100 cases were reported.

Sonoma, Napa and Marin counties are experiencing the worse outbreaks of whooping cough. Through June 10, 107 cases were reported in Riverside County compared with 80 in all of 2013, 46 in 2012 and 467 during the peak year of 2010.

“Preventing severe disease and death in infants is our highest priority,” Chapman said in a press release. “We urge all pregnant women to get vaccinated. We also urge parents to vaccinate infants as soon as possible.”

Infants too young to be fully immunized remain most vulnerable to severe and fatal cases of pertussis. Two-thirds of pertussis hospitalizations have been in children four months or younger. Two infants have died, CDPH reported.

Infants should be vaccinated as soon as possible. The first dose of pertussis vaccine can be given as early as 6 weeks of age. Even one dose of DTaP may offer some protection against fatal pertussis disease in infants, CDPH reports.

The Tdap vaccination for pregnant women is the best way to protect infants who are too young to be vaccinated, and all pregnant women should be vaccinated with Tdap in the third trimester of each pregnancy, regardless of previous Tdap vaccination, CDPH advised.

Older children, pre-adolescents, and adults should also be vaccinated against pertussis according to current recommendations. CDPH further advised that it is particularly important that persons who will be around newborns also be vaccinated.

“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.”

The symptoms of pertussis vary by age. A typical case of pertussis in children begins with a cough and runny nose lasting one to two weeks. The cough worsens, potentially developing into rapid coughing spells ending with a “whooping” sound. These symptoms may not occur in young infants but the infant’s face may turn red or purple.

Pertussis for an adult may be a cough that persists for several weeks.