Cases of whooping cough are at the highest levels since the 1950s.

In California, it is the worst outbreak in 60 years with 10 deaths already.

Contributing to this are children who aren’t fully immunized, people who were never immunized and what’s called a waning immunity.

“The immunity that our bodies develop following the immunizations, does appear to disappear as you get older,” says Dr. Mark Diamond of Children’s Community Pediatrics.

And closer to home, in the northern panhandle of West Virginia, three cases of lab confirmed disease in one county. Two were infants too young to be immunized. The other was a school-aged child who had been immunized, reflecting the variation in response to vaccine.

In our area, no such pattern yet.

“We’ve had 29 cases reported, and that’s in keeping with what we’ve been seeing in past years,” says Allegheny County Health Department spokesman Guillerno Cole. “The cases that we are seeing are mainly younger people, the average age is 15.”

“We have had whooping cough, pertussis, in the greater Pittsburgh region,” says Dr. Diamond. “It’s been there for years. We fortunately have had no serious complications, there’ve been no deaths reported.”

Doctors are warning, being lax about vaccination could lead to a surge of cases here.

“We’re finding that adults are getting whooping cough, and they’re spreading it to the children. It’s been shown that as many as 70 to 75 percent of all cases of whooping cough in children is from direct exposure to adult family members,” Dr. Diamond continues.

“We’ve also seen cases in older adults, even people in their 60s,” Cole points out.

“And they need to get booster shots also and generally don’t,” warns Dr. Diamond.

Whooping cough is a very contagious bacterial infection. It has similar symptoms to a cold, but there’s the characteristic whoop of a cough and severe coughing spells that can turn a child red or blue. It can be treated with antibiotics, which can also prevent the spread to others.

Before a vaccine was available, whooping cough killed as many as 10,000 people in the United States each year. Now, the annual number of deaths is less than 30.