Washington battles whooping cough epidemic

With Washington experiencing one of the worst whooping cough epidemics in decades, Gov. Christine Gregoire announced May 3 that she's releasing additional funds to the state Department of Health (DOH) to help combat the dangerous disease.

According to the state's most recent statistics, 1,132 cases of whooping cough had been reported as of April 28. If the epidemic continues at this rate, the state anticipates 2012 will see more than 3,000 cases, an amount not seen in decades.

Along with the additional state money, Gregoire also appealed to the federal government to allow the state to re-direct other funds toward the purchase of the whooping cough vaccine, a move federal health officials approved last week.

"I've been following the epidemic closely and the continued increase in cases has me very concerned about the health of our residents," Gregoire said. "I'm especially concerned about the vulnerable babies in our communities that are too young to be fully immunized. These actions will help state and local health leaders get vaccine into people's arms so we can stem the tide."

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.

State Secretary of Health Mary Selecky declared the whooping cough outbreak an epidemic in April, saying the rates Washington is experiencing are unprecedented in the time she's been the state's top health officer.

"In my 13 years as secretary, this is the first time I've had to use the word 'epidemic' about disease in our state," Selecky said. "Pertussis is very serious, especially for babies. It's vital that teens and adults are current on their immunizations because they're often the ones who give whooping cough to babies. We're headed for unprecedented numbers of cases. We've got to keep spreading the word to help prevent the spread of illness."

Gregoire freed up an additional $90,000 from her office's emergency fund, with that money aimed at helping continue to increase awareness about the whooping cough epidemic. That additional $90,000 augments the $210,000 in existing funds the DOH already had available. She was able to get the Centers for Disease Control to allow the state to use federal funding usually spent on other immunizations to instead be spent on 27,000 doses of whooping cough vaccine.


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