State spreads vaccine to curb whooping cough epidemic

The risk for transmission of whooping cough is greatest during the first two weeks of the illness, according to the Department of Health. - Courtesy photo
The risk for transmission of whooping cough is greatest during the first two weeks of the illness, according to the Department of Health.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

On April 3, Washington State Secretary of Health Mary Selecky declared a whooping cough epidemic.

Since then, more than 2,000 new cases have been reported, bringing the total up to 2,883, according to the Department of Health (DOH). State health officials urge citizens to get the whooping cough vaccination and take other preventative measures.

"Infants are most at risk for very serious illness from whooping cough, and many are made sick by an adult who didn't know they were carrying the illness," said State Health Officer Dr. Maxine Hayes.

"All teens and adults should go get the Tdap shot. Even people who don't have close contact with babies can spread the illness to babies when they're in public."

The DOH ordered 14,000 more doses of whooping cough vaccine for uninsured adults, on top of the 27,000 doses already sent to local health partners — and bringing the total number of doses ordered and distributed by the state to 41,000.

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

The vaccination is the most important tool in fighting the outbreak because it protects the one vaccinated and stops the spread of the sickness.

According to the DOH, infants under two months old are at the most risk because they are too young to have been vaccinated. 173 cases have been reported in infants, 38 of which have lead to hospitalizations. There have been no fatalities reported as a result of whooping cough.

The protection from the Tdap vaccination wears off over time, so teens and adults require the booster shot. If a person's vaccination has diminished, they could catch whooping cough, although the symptoms will be less severe, as will the duration and the risk of spreading the disease.

Adults unsure of their status with the Tdap vaccination are urged to contact their healthcare provider.

The risk for transmission is greatest during the first two weeks of the course of the illness, according to the DOH.

The DOH advises anyone who may contract the sickness to stay away from babies, and also to stay home from work, school and other activities until finishing five days of antibiotics, or at least three weeks have passed since the symptoms first started.

Uninsured adults are advised to contact a local health agency to find where the state-supplied vaccine is available. Health care providers typically charge $15 for the booster, but the fee can be waived for those unable to afford it. Most health insurance does cover the cost of the vaccine, and the state's Childhood Vaccine Program covers ages 19 and under at no cost.





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