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State distributes more vaccine for whooping cough epidemic

More than 2,000 new cases of pertussis, also known as "whooping cough," have been reported since the state Secretary of Health declared an epidemic on April 3. The epidemic is up to 2,883 reported cases and remains active, especially in Snohomish County, as state health officials urge vaccination and other disease prevention measures.

"Infants are most at risk for very serious illness from whooping cough, and many are made sick by adults who don't know they're carrying the illness," state Health Officer Dr. Maxine Hayes said. "All teens and adults should get the Tdap shot. Even people who don't have close contact with babies can spread the illness to babies when they're in public."

As of Friday, July 6, the Snohomish Health District had confirmed 408 cases of pertussis in Snohomish County since the start of the year.

"This includes six hospitalizations, five of whom were infants," said Suzanne Pate, public information officer for the Snohomish Health District, who noted that no infants in the county have died from pertussis this year, but one infant did die of it in August of 2011. "Our initial allocation of the Tdap vaccine for adults from the state was 2760 doses, and we've just now requested an additional 2000 doses."

The state Department of Health ordered 14,000 more doses of whooping cough vaccine for uninsured adults, to go with 27,000 doses already sent to local health and tribal partners.

Babies younger than two months are not old enough to receive vaccinations, and are at high risk for serious illnesses as a result. Statewide, there have been 173 reported cases of whooping cough among infants, 38 of whom were hospitalized.

Protection provided by the childhood whooping cough vaccine series wears off over time, so teens and adults need a booster. People whose vaccine protection wears off may contract whooping cough themselves, but usually suffer from less severe symptoms and shorter illnesses, and are less likely to spread the disease to others. Adults who aren't sure if they’ve had the Tdap booster should check with their health care providers.

The Snohomish Health District posts notices of upcoming Tdap clinics on our Web site on the home page of its website at www.snohd.org, and on the webpage devoted specifically to pertussis at www.snohd.org/StoptheCough.

"Our most recent strategy is to dispense the vaccine through select pharmacies in Snohomish County, to make the shots more accessible to all adults who need them," Pate said. "You can find lists of those pharmacies and more information on those two webpages."

While vaccination is the best protection, there are other effective ways to reduce the spread of pertussis. Anyone with a cough should stay home when they're sick, wash their hands often and go to the doctor if they experience a prolonged cough. People diagnosed with whooping cough should stay away from babies and stay home from work, school and other activities until they've finished their five days of antibiotics, or until at least three weeks after the cough started.

Because pertussis in its early stages appears similar to a common cold, it's often not suspected or diagnosed until the more severe symptoms appear. Infected people are most contagious during this time, up to about two weeks after the cough begins. Anyone who has been in close contact with someone known to have whooping cough should talk to their health care provider.

Uninsured adults can contact their local health agencies to find out where state-supplied vaccine is available. Health care providers can charge up to about $15 to administer the vaccine, but this fee can be waived for those who can't afford it. Most health insurance plans cover whooping cough vaccine for adults and the state provides all vaccine for Washington children younger than 19 years old through the Childhood Vaccine Program.

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