More than 1,000 whooping cough cases in Washington; epidemic continues

The number of people with whooping cough in Washington state has reached epidemic levels, health officials said.

Since the start of 2012, 1,008 cases of the ailment have been reported as of April 21. This number is up drastically from the 94 cases reported during the same period last year. The most reported cases in the state were 1,026 in 2005.

If the trend continues, state Secretary of Health Mary Selecky said Washington is on track to have the most cases of whooping cough in decades.

“We’re very concerned about the continued rapid increase in reported cases,” Selecky said.

“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 (Tdap vaccine is for protection against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis) to be vaccinated to help protect babies that are too young for the vaccine.”

Vaccinations are recommended for children and adults as the illness is highly contagious and is spread by coughing and sneezing.

“Many adults don’t realize they need to be vaccinated, or they assume they have been,” said Dr. Maxine Hayes of the state health office. “We’re asking everyone to verify with their health care provider that they’re up-to-date on vaccines.”

Whooping cough causes cold-like symptoms followed by a longer, more severe cold.

Seattle resident Heidi Bruch experienced this firsthand.  When Bruch was one week out from giving birth to her daughter, Caroline, now 20 months old, she and doctors didn’t think much about her nagging, dry cough. But two weeks after her daughter was born, Caroline developed one, too.

“It got continually worse, this coughing and choking around her feeds. During one particular  family dinner, she started coughing so hard she turned blue,” said Bruch.

At the hospital, Bruch soon learned, she had passed whooping cough onto her newborn.

“I had inadvertently given my newborn a life threatening illness that could have easily been prevented,” Bruch said.

Four babies have died in our state over the past two years from the disease, and many others have been hospitalized. Babies under six weeks are too young to be vaccinated, and they often get the disease from their parents and other relatives.

Hayes said, “The first stage looks like just a cold, it can last two weeks, and you may get an occasional cough. The second stage is where the diagnosis of this disease suspicion takes place -- the constant coughing, fits of cough, followed by the whoop. “

A statewide campaign kicked off Tuesday, with radio public service announcements  encouraging teens and adults to get their booster shots.  

Weekly updates of case counts in counties throughout the state can be found here.