The disease, also known as pertussis, "is now epidemic in our community," said Dr. Gary Goldbaum, health officer for the Snohomish Health District.
By the end of the year, 220 cases had been reported in the county. In all of 2010, there were just 25 confirmed cases of pertussis here.
Snohomish County now ranks among the highest statewide in its pertussis rates, with nearly a third of all the cases reported last year. Large numbers of cases also were reported in five other counties: Whatcom, San Juan, Island, Grant and Cowlitz counties, according to the state Department of Health.
Last year, eight Snohomish County infants were hospitalized with whooping cough. A 27-day-old Lake Stevens infant died from pertussis in August.
Clusters of whooping cough cases have been reported in communities throughout Snohomish County. In November and December, whooping cough was reported in Arlington, Monroe, Marysville, Darrington, Granite Falls, Stanwood and Lake Stevens.
While the disease can be a lingering nuisance for adults, it is most worrisome in young children, particularly those younger than two months who haven't had their first dose of vaccine.
"They have no immunity," Goldbaum said. The disease can cause a number of problems in infants, including pneumonia, seizures and troubles with breathing.
Health officials are urging adults -- particularly those who have contact with infants -- to be immunized against whooping cough to help slow its spread.
They also urged parents to ensure their children are up to date on their pertussis immunizations. A series of five shots is recommended, beginning at two months old. The final dose is administered when children are between 4 and 6 years old.
The same vaccine also protects against tetanus and diphtheria.
The Snohomish Health District is planning a special one-day event, tentatively set for early February, to provide about 430 free doses of the vaccine to women in the third trimester of pregnancy and adults in close contact with infants, especially those without health insurance.
The vaccine is being paid for through a $14,000 grant from The Everett Clinic Foundation.
It will mark the first time this type of public immunization effort has been launched by the health agency since fall 2009, when 25,000 children and adults in Snohomish County were immunized against swine flu.
Although final numbers are still being tallied, there were at least 782 cases of pertussis reported in Washington last year. The rates of disease among infants younger than 1 year of age were higher than all other age groups, according to the state Department of Health.
Tonya Lively, a medical assistant at The Everett Clinic, is a relative of the Lake Stevens infant who died last year from pertussis. Lively launched a Facebook page,
">Stop Whooping Cough, to promote awareness of the disease and encourage immunization.
"When you've been in the position I'm in, you've got to step up and do something," she said. "Your immunity wanes as you grow older. I don't think adults really know about it."
The Everett Clinic is offering the vaccine to uninsured adults for $64, about half price, if they can pay for the shot the day they get it.
The vaccine is provided free to children through the state's Vaccine for Children Program, but clinics typically charge a fee for administering it.
The only way to protect infants who are particularly vulnerable to the disease is for everyone who's in closest contact with them -- siblings, parents, grandparents, other relatives, friends and caregivers -- to be immunized, health officials say.
"It's that cocooning idea, that we surround an infant with people who cannot be infected," Goldbaum said.
The Everett Clinic, which has eight clinics in Snohomish County, administered 19,013 doses of the vaccine last year, more than triple the number given in 2010.
Last fall, federal health officials began recommending that pregnant women get the shot at about 20 weeks or around the third trimester, rather than waiting until their baby is born.
Dr. Yuan-Po Tu, director of The Everett Clinic's walk-in clinics, called the current pertussis outbreak the largest he's seen in his 18 years of working in Snohomish County.
In all of 2010, 25 cases were reported in Snohomish County, he noted. In December, 43 cases were reported among patients of The Everett Clinic alone, he said.
Even at these rates "we don't believe we're capturing all the positive cases," Tu said.
As one example, adults typically have coldlike symptoms that seem to linger with either no fever or a low-grade fever.
The patients who test positive for pertussis "probably represent only a fraction of what we have in the county," Tu said.
Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486; email@example.com.
The recommended immunization schedule for whooping cough or pertussis:
Infants should get a dose at 2,4, and 6 months, another between 15 and 18 months and when they're between 4 and 6 years old.
A booster shot is recommended at age 11 and another at age 18.
The shot is recommended for any adult who has not been immunized.
Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is a highly contagious respiratory disease.
Pertussis is known for uncontrollable, violent coughing that often makes it hard to breathe. After fits of many coughs, someone with pertussis often needs to take deep breaths, which result in a "whooping" sound. Not everyone with pertussis coughs or "whoops."
Pertussis most commonly affects infants and young children and can be fatal, especially in babies.
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
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