Whooping cough continues to spread

County health officials say 74 of 92 local cases are in kids under 18

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter

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Whooping cough case numbers in Clark County are inching toward 100 as the epidemic continues in the rest of the state.

As of noon Tuesday, Clark County had reported 92 cases of whooping cough, compared with 18 cases during the same time period last year. Statewide, the number of confirmed cases through April 28 was 1,132. That’s compared with just 117 cases during the same 17 weeks last year.

Clark County Public Health also provided more details about who is coming down with the illness in Clark County.

Of the 92 cases, 74 children younger than 18 years old and 18 adults had the illness. Among those who were diagnosed with whooping cough, 43 were considered up-to-date on their whooping cough vaccinations. None of the 18 adults were up-to-date with the recommended vaccination schedule.

“People who have been vaccinated can and do get whooping cough,” said Tim Church, spokesman for the Washington State Department of Health. “The vaccine does work, but it wears off over time. So, the longer it has been since someone has been vaccinated, the less protection they have.”

Clark County Health Officer Dr. Alan Melnick notes that “up-to-date” does not mean “fully immunized.”

The state recommends children receive five doses of the diphtheria, tetanus, and acellular pertussis vaccine, commonly known as DTaP, before age 7. The fifth dose of the vaccine is recommended for children between the ages of 4 and 6. That means a 5-year-old who received his fifth vaccine is considered up-to-date, as is a 5-year-old who received only four doses, Melnick said. While both children may be considered up-to-date, the child with all five doses is more protected, he said.

The same is true for teens and adults. The state recommends adolescents (ages 11 to 18) and adults (ages 19 to 64) should receive a tetanus, diphtheria and acellular pertussis booster, commonly known as Tdap. Those who receive the booster later in the interval range will be less protected than those who received more doses, Melnick said.

Those who have been vaccinated but still get sick with whooping cough often have a more mild case than someone who has not been vaccinated, Church said.

“While the vaccine isn’t perfect, it is the best protection we have,” Church added.

The vaccine protects infants who are too young to be immunized, he said. The illness is particularly dangerous for infants, who can develop serious complications such as pneumonia and brain inflammation. Infants can and do die from the disease. Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is an illness spread through respiratory secretions such as coughing and sneezing.

People with whooping cough experience coldlike 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.

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