SHORELINE, Wash. – Washington state health officials on Tuesday said whooping cough has reached epidemic levels in the state and urged vaccines for all children and adults to help prevent the disease.
About 640 cases have been reported in 23 counties as of Saturday, putting the state on track to have the highest number of reported cases in decades, officials said. There were 94 cases reported during the same period last year. No deaths have been reported this year.
“We’re seeing a lot more cases than we consider normal,” Health Secretary Mary Selecky said during a news conference at a state laboratory in Shoreline. “We’re concerned about the trend. We want the trend to stop,” she said.
Pertussis, or whooping cough, is a highly contagious respiratory illness spread by coughing and sneezing, but one that can be prevented by getting vaccinated, health officials said.
Whooping cough – which causes cold-like symptoms followed by a long, severe cough – is most dangerous for infants, though it affects people of all ages. Four infants have died in the previous two years in Washington.
Infants are particularly vulnerable to whooping cough because they can’t be immunized before 4 to 6 weeks. Infants often get the illness from adults or other family members, so Selecky urged parents, caregivers, teens and anyone who comes in close contact with infants to get a whooping cough booster, called a Tdap. The shots children get wear off over time.
“Many adults don’t realize they need to be vaccinated, or they assume they have been,” said State Health Officer Dr. Maxine Hayes, who is a pediatrician. There were 965 cases reported statewide in 2011, compared with 608 cases in 2010.
Whooping cough typically flares up every three to five years; it last peaked in Washington in 2005 with 1,026 cases reported.
Counties with no confirmed cases of pertussis include: Adams, Asotin, Chelan, Columbia, Douglas, Ferry, Garfield, Grant, Klickitat, Lincoln, Okanogan, Pacific, Pend Oreille, San Juan, Skamania, Wahkiakum, and Whitman.