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Gregoire announces emergency action to slow the spread of whooping cough

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Washington state Gov. Chris Gregoire has made emergency funds available to the state Department of Health to help curb the epidemic of whooping cough (pertussis) underway in Washington.

As of April 28th, 1,132 cases of whooping cough have been reported in the state. That’s compared to 117 over the same time last year. The epidemic is on pace for as many as 3,000 cases this year, health officials said.

Added to the $210,000 in existing funds from the Department of Health, Gregoire is making $90,000 available from the governor’s emergency fund to strengthen public awareness efforts about the need for vaccination

Gregoire also announced that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has approved using federal funds designated for other immunizations to buy more than 27,000 doses of pertussis vaccine for adults who are uninsured or underinsured.

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.

Gregoire is urging health care professionals to get vaccinated and vaccinate their patients, and she announced federal approval for health officials to re-direct some funds to buy several thousand doses of pertussis vaccine for adults.

Gregoire said she would keep access to the emergency fund open in the event the state needs to purchase additional vaccinations.

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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