Whooping cough cases up sharply in Washington State

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Photomicrograph of the bacteria that causes whooping cough

Pertussis, the whooping cough bacteria CDC photo

The number of cases of whooping cough in Washington are up sharply this year with 431 cases reported in the state — 53 more than had been reported at this time last year, according to Washingtion State health officials.

The respiratory infection, which is also called pertussis, can cause serious illnesses in all age groups, but babies are particularly vulnerable, health officials said.

Of pertussis cases reported to state officials this month, 58 have been infants under that age of one — 22 of whom required hospitalization and two of whom died.

Pertussis is highly contagious and is easily spread by coughing and sneezing. Infection can cause severe bouts of coughing that are often followed by a long inhalation that causes the “whoop” that gives the disease the name whooping cough.

The coughing fits can leave victims breathless and unable to eat, drink or sleep. Complications include pneumonia, seizures and death.

There is a vaccine that can prevent infection, but it is not effective in newborns or infants. Health officials therefore recommend that anyone who has contact with newborns and infants be vaccinated or, if they have been vaccinated, to make sure their vaccination is up-to-date.

“Older kids and adults can help protect babies by getting the pertussis vaccine,” said State Health Officer and pediatrician Dr. Maxine Hayes. “By being vaccinated, close contacts of infants create a protective ‘cocoon’ for newborns and infants who can’t yet be vaccinated or have not completed their initial vaccine series.”

Most people receive the pertussis vaccine as a child, but the vaccine wears off over time.

The pertussis vaccine (Tdap) is available for adolescents and adults through age 64.

The Department of Health recommends:

  • Pregnant women are urged to get vaccinated, as are health care workers of all ages who have contact with infants.
  • People of all ages should get immunized if they have close contact with a baby; this is especially important for siblings of infants, who should be up-to-date on DTaP and other recommended immunizations.

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