State Secretary of Health Mary Selecky announced Tuesday that whooping cough disease has reached epidemic levels in Washington.
So far in 2012, 640 cases have been reported in 23 counties as of March 31. This compares to 94 cases during this same time period last year, putting Washington on pace to have the highest number of reported cases in decades.
“We’re very concerned about the continued rapid increase in reported cases,” said Selecky. “This disease can be very serious for young babies, who often get whooping cough from adults and other family members. We want all teens and adults who haven’t had Tdap to be vaccinated to help protect babies that are too young for the vaccine.”
Whooping cough vaccines are recommended for all children (free for minors under age 19 at participating locations) and adults. The shots children get wear off over time. Everyone age 11 and older should get a whooping cough booster, called Tdap. It’s especially important for anyone who has close contact with babies younger than 12 months to get a dose of Tdap to help protect the baby from whooping cough. This includes parents, siblings, grandparents, health care providers, and child care providers.
The Tdap vaccines such as Adacel are available at most local pharmacies, but not all.
Health-care providers may charge an office visit fee and a fee to give the vaccine, called an administration fee.
“Many adults don’t realize they need to be vaccinated, or they assume they have been,” said State Health Officer Dr. Maxine Hayes. “We’re asking everyone to verify with their health care provider that they’re up to date on vaccines. We’re also asking everyone to use good health manners—like cover your cough and stay home when you’re sick—that will also help prevent spreading whooping cough.”
People who cannot afford the administration fee can ask their regular health care providers if they’ll waive that cost. Most health insurance carriers will cover the whooping cough vaccine; adults should check their health plan.
Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is a highly contagious respiratory illness spread by coughing and sneezing. It affects people of all ages, but is most serious in infants, especially those too young to get vaccinated or who aren’t fully protected. It causes cold-like symptoms followed by a long, severe cough that can last for weeks. Adolescents and adults often get a much milder case of whooping cough, but they can still spread it.
The State Department of Health is introducing a new public service radio announcement this week reminding people how serious whooping cough can be and to get vaccinated. The spot features Secretary Selecky along with a Snohomish County mother who talks about losing her newborn daughter to whooping cough.
Weekly updates of case counts in counties throughout the state are posted online on Tuesday afternoons around 3 p.m.
Information for this article provided by the State Department of Health.