Whooping cough makes ‘spring surge’

18 cases reported since mid-January; vaccinations urged

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter

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Whooping cough is making a springtime surge in communities throughout Clark County.

Since mid-January, local physicians have reported 18 confirmed cases of the highly contagious respiratory illness, said Marni Storey, Clark County Public Health deputy director.

Cases of whooping cough have been reported from a variety of settings across the county but primarily in schools and churches, Storey said.

The influx isn’t considered an outbreak and isn’t reason to panic, she said.

“What we know, based on these numbers, is that we’re getting a spring surge and basically, because of the different places, it’s really out there and all over the community right now,” Storey said.

Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is a illness spread through respiratory secretions such as coughing, sneezing and talking, she 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, Storey said. They may also vomit or spit up after coughing and have difficulty catching their breath, she said.

The illness is particularly dangerous for infants, who can develop serious complications such as pneumonia and brain inflammation, Storey said. Pregnant women, especially those in their third trimester, are also at risk of passing the illness on to their baby if they’re not vaccinated, Storey said.

Adults and older children usually get a milder case of whooping cough, however, they can still spread the illness to others.

The state health department recommends infants receive a series of the DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis) vaccine beginning at 2 months of age. Infants should receive subsequent doses at 4 months and 6 months and a fourth dose between 15 and 18 months of age.

Children must have the vaccines, and another tetanus/pertussis booster, before entering kindergarten. Teens and adults are urged to get a booster shot every 10 years, Storey said. The adult booster did not include the pertussis vaccine up until a few years ago, Storey said, so parents and adults should check with their physicians to make sure they are protected from whooping cough.

“It’s pretty contagious,” Storey said. “Really anybody that hasn’t been vaccinated is susceptible.”

Whooping cough is diagnosed by a nasal swab or blood test and is treated with antibiotics.

In the past two years, Clark County has experienced elevated levels of pertussis. In 2010, Clark County had 92 cases. In 2011, there were 94 cases. That’s up from 22 cases in 2006, Storey said.

Pertussis is also on the rise in other parts of the state. Last year, there were 912 cases in the state the highest in six years, according to the Washington State Department of Health.

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