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What is Whooping Cough

May 9, 2012

An adult receives a Tdap at Northeast Tri-County Community Health in Colville Monday afternoon.

Washington’s whooping cough epidemic continues on a record pace that has already surpassed 1,000 reported cases. The total of 1,008 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.
Pertussis is a highly contagious respiratory illness spread by coughing and sneezing. It causes cold-like symptoms followed by a long and severe cough illness that can last many weeks. The cough is often followed by a “whooping” sound, giving the disease its common name. Fever is rare. Anyone with cold-like symptoms such as severe cough or a cough lasting longer than two (2) weeks should see a health care provider and stay away from infants and children.
The state is on pace to reach more than 3,000 cases for the year; levels that haven’t been seen in more than six decades. The majority of cases thus far have been reported on the west side.
“We’re very concerned about the risk to infants, especially because of how quickly whooping cough is spreading,” says 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.”

Around 56 cases in Tri-County area for 2010

Reported cases are just the tip of the iceberg, as only 10 to12 percent of cases are reported because many adults and teens that get Pertussis don’t seek medical attention.
Joanie Christian, Northeast Tri-County Community Health Director, says there have been two reported cases of Pertussis in Stevens County so far in 2012 and none reported in Pend Oreille or Ferry County.
“We are encouraging the cocooning of infants,” says Christian. “This strategy protects infants by ensuring that all That means parents, adolescent siblings, grandparents, caregivers, anyone who is spending a lot of time with babies should receive a Tdap (Whooping Cough booster shot).” with Tdap vaccine receive a Tdap booster.
Around 56 cases from the Tri-County area were reported to the Washington State Health Department database in 2010. Some were downgraded to suspect or probable cases because they did not meet state criteria of what constitutes Pertussis. There was only one reported case in Stevens County in 2011.
Already this year 71 infants under a year old have been reported to have whooping cough in Washington State. Eighteen of them have been hospitalized. No babies have died in 2012, but two babies died in 2010 and two in 2011.
Low immunization rates in the Tri-County area can also play a part in spreading the disease, but when it comes to why parents don’t have their children vaccinated, there’s no simple answer.

‘Local physicians have been testing for it as well…’

“It’s a number of factors,” Christian explains. “Financial barriers, transportation issues, and there’s still a lot of folks concerned about vaccine safety. We’re trying to remove those barriers and provide the resources and information necessary to help parents and those who care for a child make good choices for their health and kids’ health.”
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. All children ages 11-12 are encouraged to get a Tdap.
“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.”
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.
“Local physicians have been testing for it as well,” says Christian. “They know what to look for.”
For more information, go to www.netchd.org.

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