Whooping cough epidemic slows down but sticks around

The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) reports that the whooping cough epidemic has slowed, with some areas of the state returning to pre-outbreak conditions.

The disease is still active, and the DOH is reminding Washington residents of two things:

• Infants are the most vulnerable

• Vaccination is the best defense

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.

"We're watching whooping cough activity closely," said Secretary of Health Mary Selecky. "We're encouraged to see the pace of new cases in our state slowing, but we are not completely out of the woods. Whooping cough is still active and babies are still at risk."

The DOH notes that with more than 4,500 cases reported in 2012, it's the largest outbreak of the disease in more than 70 years. As already mentioned, some areas of Washington are returning to "normal" levels, while others are still experiencing a high rate of occurrence for the disease.

Along with this, the DOH is reminding residents that cases of whooping cough will always exist in the state at some level, no matter what.

With Thanksgiving this week, and Christmas not far off, Selecky said people should be conscious of their friends and relatives gathering together for the holidays.

"With family and friends gathering for the holidays, disease can spread easily. It's important for adults and teens to be current on their whooping cough vaccines to protect babies from this serious illness," she said. "And of course, remember to wash your hands often, cover your cough, and stay home when you're sick."

Infants and toddlers are more at risk for contracting whooping cough because often times they haven't had a full course of vaccinations to protect them from the disease.

According to the DOH, most infants will have had the full course of vaccines by 15-18 months, so infants younger than that are the most vulnerable. Teens and adults are also encouraged to get a booster shot of the whooping cough vaccine, tDap, because that vaccine's effectiveness wears off over time.

Washington state has free vaccines available for children up to age 18. During the summer, the state bought additional supplies of the vaccine to make it available to uninsured and underinsured adults, and the DOH reports that much of that vaccine is still available. Those in need of a tDap booster can call the Family Health Hotline at (800) 322-2588.


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