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Whooping cough cases top 1,000 in Washington state

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Washington state’s whooping cough epidemic continues at a record pace with more than 1,000 cases reported to date, Washington State Department of Health Officials said Tuesday.

The total of 1,008 reported as of April 21 is more than reported in all of 2011 and is the highest number of cases since 1,026 were reported in all of 2005.

At this rate, the state is on track to reach more than 3,000 cases for the year; levels that haven’t been seen in more than six decades, officials said.

“We’re very concerned about the risk to infants, especially because of how quickly whooping cough is spreading,” said Secretary of Health, Mary Selecky. “Whooping cough can be life threatening for infants, and they’re too young to get enough doses of vaccine to be protected. That’s why we want everyone else to make sure they’re vaccinated against whooping cough.”

Already this year 71 infants under a year old have been reported to have whooping cough. Eighteen of them have been hospitalized. No babies have died in 2012, but two babies died in 2010 and two in 2011.

Whooping Cough (Pertussis)

Photomicrograph of the bacteria that causes whooping cough

Pertussis, the whooping cough bacteria -- CDC photo

Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is a highly contagious respiratory illness spread by coughing and sneezing.

It is caused by a bacteria called Bordetella pertussis. The name, pertussis, comes from Latin, from per-‘away, extremely’ + Latin tussis ‘a cough.’

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Preventing, in the 20th century,  pertussis was one of the most common childhood diseases and a major cause of child death in the United States.

Initially, an infection may seem like just a cold. However, during this phase of the infection, which can last several weeks, a person can spread the disease to others.

Patients typically then go on to develop a severe, persistent–often wracking–cough that can last for several more weeks.

The coughing fits can be prolonged and are often followed by a long inhalation that causes the “whooping” sound that gives the disease its name.

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

Whooping cough can affect people of all ages — but is most serious in infants, especially those too young to get vaccinated or who aren’t fully protected.

There is a vaccine that can prevent infection, but it is not effective in newborns or infants and it wears off with time.

Many cases in the current epidemic are being reported in school age children. The vaccine that young children get wears off over time, so all children age 11-12 should get a whooping cough booster shot, called Tdap, health officials said.

The Tdap vaccine is also recommended for pregnant women and women who recently gave birth.

Getting vaccinated before giving birth helps prevent the mother from spreading the illness to her newborn.

The Department of Health has release a public service announcement featuring Chelsey Charles, a mother whose 27-week-old infant  Kaliah died of whooping cough last year.

“It devastated our family,” Chelsey Charles says. “Don’t wait; go get your Tdap shot before it’s too late for somebody else.”

“This is what we’re trying to prevent,” says Dr. Maxine Hayes, State Health Officer. “When adults get sick with whooping cough it can be miserable, but when babies get the disease, they often must be hospitalized because it’s difficult for them to feed, sleep, and breathe.”

Selecky and Hayes urge all teens and adults to check their immunization status. Many health care providers use the state’s immunization registry and can check which vaccines have been given.

Most health insurance carriers cover the whooping cough vaccine; adults should double check with their health plan.

Whooping cough vaccines are available to all Washington children under 19 years old through health care provider offices participating in the state’s Childhood Vaccine Program.

More information on whooping cough disease and who should be vaccinated is available on Department of Health’s website (www.doh.wa.gov).

The number of reported cases is updated every Tuesday afternoon.

Free vaccine available

  • All recommended vaccines are offered at no cost to all kids under 19 through health care provider offices participating in the state’s Childhood Vaccine Program.
  • Health care providers may charge an office visit fee and a fee to give the vaccine, called an administration fee.
  • People who cannot afford the administration fee can ask their regular health care provider if they’ll waive that cost.
  • Most health insurance carriers will cover the whooping cough vaccine; adults should double-check with their health plan.

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