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Whooping cough: Washington state epidemic exceeds 2600 cases

The Washington State Department of Health is reporting that there are 2647 confirmed cases of whooping cough (Bordetella pertussis) as of June 23, 2012. This number compares to only 187 cases during the same period in 2011. The epidemic has stricken 31 out of 39 counties (pdf) in the state with Skagit County having the highest number at 508 confirmed cases.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Pertussis (whooping cough) can cause serious illness in infants, children and adults. The disease usually starts with cold-like symptoms and maybe a mild cough or fever. After 1 to 2 weeks, severe coughing can begin. Unlike the common cold, pertussis can become a series of coughing fits that continues for weeks. In infants, the cough can be minimal or not even there. Infants may have a symptom known as “apnea.” Apnea is a pause in the child’s breathing pattern. Pertussis is most dangerous for babies. More than half of infants younger than 1 year of age who get the disease must be hospitalized. Approximately 1-2% of infants who are hospitalized from pertussis will die.

Pertussis can cause violent and rapid coughing, over and over, until the air is gone from the lungs and you are forced to inhale with a loud “whooping” sound. This extreme coughing can cause you to throw up and be very tired. The “whoop” is often not there and the infection is generally milder (less severe) in teens and adults, especially those who have been vaccinated.

Whooping cough can be easily prevented with the Tdap or DTaP vaccine. The problem is that infants are not initially vaccinated until they are 2 months old, and are not fully immunized until they’re 6 months old, so they are susceptible to adults who may be infected. Adults may have lapsed immunity or may have not been vaccinated.

It’s unknown why the epidemic in Washington state has grown so fast and so large, but it may be that there is a pool of anti-vaccine sentiment in the area. 

Vaccines save lives.

Michael Simpson

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