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News / Health / Clark County Health

Clark County sees 60 cases of whooping cough; most are among the unvaccinated

More than half of the cases are in children younger than 4

By Chrissy Booker, Columbian staff writer
Published: June 14, 2024, 3:20pm

Clark County Public Health has identified 60 cases of whooping cough in the county since the beginning of the year — four times more than at this point last year.

Whooping cough, also called pertussis, is a respiratory illness caused by bacteria that spreads from person to person through breathing, coughing or sneezing. The illness can be especially serious for babies younger than 1 year, who are at higher risk of severe complications.

Most of the 60 cases identified since January are among people who have never been vaccinated against whooping cough, according to the health department.

“Getting vaccinated is the best way to protect not only yourself but the babies and young children around you from getting whooping cough,” Public Health Director Alan Melnick said in a news release. “Many babies who get whooping cough are infected by older siblings, parents or caregivers who don’t know they have it.”

Children 4 years and younger account for more than half of the whooping cough cases in Clark County this year. Among those children, 78 percent have never received a whooping cough vaccine.

The state recommends children receive five doses of the diphtheria, tetanus and acellular pertussis vaccine, also known as DTaP, before age 7.

Adolescents starting at age 11 and adults should receive a tetanus, diphtheria and acellular pertussis booster, commonly known as Tdap, according to the health department. People who are vaccinated may still get whooping cough, but their illness is usually less severe.

The most recent whooping cough outbreak occurred in 2015 when public health recorded 319 cases. In 2012, the number of whooping cough cases statewide reached 1,500.

Whooping cough does not have a distinct seasonal pattern, but data shows it may increase in the summer and fall, said Marissa Armstrong, spokeswoman for Clark County Public Health.

“Early symptoms of whooping cough are similar to those of a common cold, which can make it difficult to differentiate between the two illnesses,” Armstrong said. “With whooping cough, symptoms often progress from cold-like symptoms to more severe coughing fits that leave people gasping to breathe afterward. Babies may not cough but can experience life-threatening pauses in breathing.”

Whooping cough is treated with antibiotics. After five days of antibiotics, patients can no longer spread the illness, but the cough may continue. Without antibiotics, patients can be contagious for three weeks after the cough begins.

Public health has not received any reports of deaths due to whooping cough this year, Armstrong said.