Whooping cough epidemic still spreading

Health officials advise vaccination; disease is dangerous for infants

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter

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The number of whooping cough cases statewide is nearing 1,000 as Clark County numbers creep toward 100.

The Washington State Department of Health’s latest report, released Tuesday, shows 897 cases of whooping cough from Jan. 1 through April 14. That compares with 105 cases during the same time period last year.

In Clark County, 83 cases of whooping cough have been reported as of Tuesday, said Dr. Alan Melnick, Clark County health officer. That compares with 94 local cases in all of 2011.

In the last week, 121 more cases have been reported statewide, with 17 more cases reported in Clark County.

The whooping cough incidence rate is also climbing across the state.

The incidence rate in Clark County -- 16.3 cases per 100,000 people -- is higher than the state rate of 13.3 cases per 100,000 and is ninth-highest in the state. Skagit County in northwest Washington continues to report the highest incidence rate -- 134.1 cases per 100,000, which is significantly 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.

The illness is particularly dangerous for infants, who can develop serious complications such as pneumonia and brain inflammation. Infants can 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.

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