Most public school students in the Northwest head back to class next week. And that has public health officials on alert. They're afraid that classrooms could be fertile ground for the spread of whooping cough, an infectious disease that's already being called an epidemic in some states.
Nearly every state has recorded more cases of whooping cough this year than last. In Washington, there's been a ten-fold increase in cases compared to last year. The increase hasn't been that dramatic in Idaho and Oregon, but both states have more than doubled their rate since last year and are above the national average.
Genni Lehnert-Beers is with the Umatilla County Public Health Department in northeast Oregon. She says it's important for parents to make sure their children's whooping cough vaccines are up-to-date.
"Now that our kids are going back to school, they're going to be in closer quarters, thereby passing diseases just a little bit easier," Lehnert-Beers says. "We want to prevent as many cases as we possibly can."
The Centers for Disease Control says middle and high school students are especially vulnerable for whooping cough outbreaks since childhood vaccines tend to wear off around that age.
But infants are most at risk of dying from the infection. They account for virtually every death attributed to whooping cough in the U.S.
Copyright 2012 Northwest News Network