Whooping cough rates continue to climb

Epidemic shows no sign of slowing down locally, statewide

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter

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Whooping cough rates continue to climb in Clark County and the rest of the state.

Clark County health officials on Tuesday reported 66 cases of the highly contagious respiratory illness so far this year. That compares to 94 cases in all of 2011.

“It’s not slowing at this point,” said Dr. Alan Melnick, county health officer.

State Secretary of Health Mary Selecky declared a whooping cough epidemic in the state last week. State health officials reported 776 cases in Washington from Jan. 1 to April 7. That compares with 101 cases during the same period last year, according to the Washington State Department of Health.

The incident rate in Clark County — 14.5 cases per 100,000 people — is higher than the state rate of 11.5 cases per 100,000 and is eighth-highest in the state. Skagit County in northwest Washington has the highest incident rate — 105.6 cases per 100,000, which is much higher than any other county in the state, according to the state health department.

Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is an illness spread through respiratory secretions such as coughing and sneezing.

State and local health officials encourage vaccination to prevent the spread of the illness.

The state recommends children receive five doses of the diphtheria, tetanus, and acellular pertussis vaccine, commonly known as DTaP, before age 7. Adolescents (ages 11 to 18) and adults (ages 19 to 64) should receive a tetanus, diphtheria and acellular pertussis booster, commonly known as Tdap.

Melnick said health officials recommend vaccination based on a vast amount of research and scientific studies.

“It’s still the best thing we can do to protect people from pertussis,” Melnick said.

People with whooping cough experience cold-like symptoms and a persistent cough lasting several weeks. Young children and infants usually have a cough with a spasm, causing the “whoop” sound at the end of the cough. They may also vomit or spit up after coughing and have difficulty catching their breath.

The illness is particularly dangerous for infants, who can develop serious complications such as pneumonia and brain inflammation. Infants can, and still do, die from the disease, Melnick said.

Adults and older children usually get milder symptoms from whooping cough; however, they can still spread the illness to others. Pregnant women, especially those in their third trimester, are at risk of passing the illness on to their baby if they’re not vaccinated.

Marissa Harshman: 360-735-4546; http://twitter.com/col_health;http://facebook.com/reporterharshman;marissa.harshman@columbian.com.