Whooping cough epidemic: State advises vaccine for kids, pregnant women

The number of whooping cough cases is growing at a record breaking pace, according to the Washington State Department of Health (DOH).

As of April 21, 1,008 recorded cases of whooping cough were on the books for 2012, which is more than was reported in all of 2011 — and just shy of the 1,026 cases reported in 2005.

At the current rate, the DOH expects the number of whooping cough cases to exceed 3,000, a level not seen in more than 60 years.

Also known as pertussis, whooping cough can last six weeks or more. This contagious bacterial disease is characterized by the "whoop" sound made by the child taking a breath after coughing.

"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."

While there have been no fatal cases of whooping cough in infants in 2012, 71 infants under age 1 have contracted the sickness. Of those 71 infants, 12 have been hospitalized. The rate of occurrence in school children is also up, a phenomena that the DOH believes can be easily remedied with the whooping cough booster shot, Tdap.

The DOH advises pregnant women and women who have recently given birth to get the Tdap booster shot.

"This is what we're trying to prevent," said State Health Officer Dr. Maxine Hayes. "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."

For those unsure of their whooping cough/TDap immunization status, Selecky and Hayes advise that it's best to check immunization records. Most of those records are available through a person's healthcare provider. The DOH notes that most providers cover the whooping cough vaccine. Children under 19 are eligible for the vaccine by visiting healthcare providers that participate in the state's Childhood Vaccine Program.

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