Whooping Cough Cases Reaching Record Levels In Washington

Apr 4, 2012

There have been 21 reported cases of whooping cough in Idaho so far this year.  But in Washington State the number of whooping cough cases has reached epidemic levels. The disease is spreading so rapidly that health officials are urging adults and children to get vaccinated.

Washington Secretary of Health Mary Selecky announced today that as of last month, there have been 640 cases of whooping cough. That’s compared to 94 in the same period last year.

“If this pace continues, we’re on track to have the highest number of whooping cough cases in our state in decades,” Selecky says.

Whooping cough is the common name for pertussis. It’s a highly contagious bacterial disease that affects all ages. It spreads through coughing and sneezing. It can be fatal for babies because their immune system isn’t fully developed, and they’re too young for vaccination.

“We’ve seen an increase in the disease in babies, a sign that it’s a real increase rather than mostly from testing and reporting,” Selecky explains.

Selecky says four babies died of whooping cough over the last two years.

Part of the challenge is many people don’t realize they have whooping cough. The symptoms are similar to a common cold, and often followed by severe, persistent coughing.

Selecky says most people don’t know they need to get vaccinated. Those who think they already have been, should see if they’re up-to-date. Vaccines wear off over time.  

Idaho’s Department of Health and Welfare says pertussis has been on the decline in Idaho in recent years.  21 cases have been reported so far in 2012. That’s down from 30 in the first quarter of 2011 and 39 at the same time in 2010.