More request whooping cough vaccinations

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter

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Clark County health care providers are fielding more requests for the whooping cough vaccine as the epidemic continues to spread across the county and state.

Clark County Public Health has recorded 104 cases of whooping cough since Jan. 1. That’s compared with just 18 cases this time last year, according to the health department.

Washington state health officials report 1,284 cases from Jan. 1 through May 5. During the same 18-week period in 2011, the state reported 128 cases.

State and local health officials are urging people to get vaccinated to stop the spread of the illness. Last week, Gov. Chris Gregoire opened an emergency fund in response to the outbreak, making $90,000 available for a public awareness campaign aimed at encouraging vaccination.

Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is an illness spread through respiratory secretions such as coughing and sneezing. The illness is particularly dangerous, and potentially deadly, for infants, who can develop serious complications such as pneumonia and brain inflammation. Immunization of others protects infants who are too young to receive the vaccine, according to health officials.

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, according to state recommendations.

Local health care providers are seeing an uptick in the number of patients seeking information and asking to be vaccinated.

Since the epidemic began, The Vancouver Clinic has given three to four times the number of whoop

ing cough vaccines as it had prior to the outbreak. Among the groups inquiring about the Tdap booster are families with young children and grandparents who don’t want to pass the illness on to young grandchildren, said Dr. Marcia Sparling, assistant medical director.

“We see that many adults have really stopped thinking about immunizations at all, until this happened,” Sparling said.

The clinic is offering immunization to any patient who comes into the clinic and isn’t up-to-date and has also reduced the cost of the vaccine to help patients whose insurance doesn’t cover immunizations, Sparling said. In addition, the clinic is requiring all staff be immunized in order to protect patients, she said.

Kaiser Permanente physicians are also seeing a surge in patient interest in the vaccines.

Dr. Terry Williams, a family practice physician at the Orchards medical office, said he’s seen an increase in the number of patients asking to be immunized.

“I’m getting three to five emails a day asking for the vaccines for whooping cough,” Williams said. “I always let my patients know when their kids are due for the vaccine, but many of them are taking the initiative to ask me about it.”

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