Whooping cough spreads as kids go back to school

With more than 4,000 confirmed cases of whooping cough, mostly among children, state health officials warn that the start of the school year means the state's worst outbreak in decades will continue to grow.

"Now that kids are back in school and around each other for longer periods of time, germs can spread more easily," said State Health Officer Dr. Maxine Hayes, who is also a pediatrician.

"It's important for kids and everyone around them, including teachers and caregivers, to practice good health habits and make sure their immunizations are up to date."

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

The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) advises teachers and school staff, along with anyone whose profession means prolonged contact with children, to receive the whooping cough booster shot.

The shot is also known as the tDap shot. For young children, the appropriate booster shot is known as the DTaP shot. As has been reported previously, the effectiveness of the whooping cough vaccine wears off over time. Additional tDap shots are needed to ensure the vaccine's effectiveness.

Along with the vaccination, the DOH advises residents to increase their healthy habit routines, including hand washing, covering coughs, and staying home when sick.

Throughout the summer, the DOH made a number of efforts to increase the supply of booster shots throughout the state, and made access easier for people without health coverage. Children up to the age of 18 can receive the immunization for free, through the Childhood Vaccination Program.

The DOH has worked with the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) to help stop the continued spread of the whooping cough epidemic. According to the DOH, OSPI sent letters to districts across the state stressing the need for educators to make sure their immunizations were up to date. The Department of Early Learning sent letters to child care workers, informing them of the need to get the booster shot, if they hadn't already.

Learn more

To find a provider or immunization clinic, contact the Family Health Line at (800) 322-2588 or visit


We encourage an open exchange of ideas on this story's topic, but we ask you to follow our guidelines for respecting community standards. Personal attacks, inappropriate language, and off-topic comments may be removed, and comment privileges revoked, per our Terms of Use. Please see our FAQ if you have questions or concerns about using Facebook to comment.

Read the Oct 21
Green Edition

Browse the print edition page by page, including stories and ads.

Browse the archives.

Friends to Follow

View All Updates