The number of juvenile whooping cough cases being reported in Bexar County are four times the usual number for this time of year, leading pediatricians to declare the situation an 'epidemic,' 1200 WOAI news reports.


  "It's going to be the infants that are at highest risk and young children," Dr. Sebrina Perkins of Methodist Children's Hospital told 1200 WOAI news.


 Children at greatest risk of whooping cough are those under nine, but Dr. Perkins says it is the infants, especially the youngest babies, who are suffering the most in the epidemic, 43 percent of the hospitalizations are of infants.


  She says the symptoms, including the cough which gives the disease it's name, are very noticeable and very serious.


  "Violent coughing spells, coughing spells associated with vomiting and choking."


  She says whooping cough, also called 'pertussis' can have very serious consequences.  She says complications may include ear infections, pneumonia, slowed or stopped breathing, dehydration, seizures and brain damage.


  Children generally need three shots against pertussis, with vaccinations generally given at two or four months, between 15 and 18 months, and between 4 and 6 years of age.


  Dr. Perkins says whooping cough is transmitted by coughing and sneezing, as people breathe in saliva droplets. She says it is not unusual of children to pick up the virus at school, and then spread it to their younger siblings when they get home.


  She says next week's start of school will make the situation even worse.


  "As they become in closer contact with each other in groups, it is just naturally going to spread," she said.


  She says by far the best thing to do is to get children inoculated against whooping cough.  She says the vaccine is safe for young babies, and anybody with infants in the house should make sure they are vaccinated too.