72 Providence workers treated after exposure to whooping cough

EVERETT — Seventy-two employees at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett have been given antibiotics after being exposed to a fellow worker who had whooping cough.

And 17 patients who also were exposed to the disease have been advised to take antibiotics.

But so far, there are no known cases of either patients or employees contracting whooping cough after being exposed to the infected hospital worker, Cheri Russum, hospital spokeswoman, said Monday.

The employee was diagnosed with whooping cough on July 2 despite being vaccinated against the disease, also known as pertussis.

About 1 in 6 people who are vaccinated can still become infected, said Dr. Gary Goldbaum, health officer for the Snohomish Health District.

The hospital employees who were exposed, but who don’t have symptoms can take antibiotics and continue to work.

Twenty-three employees have been tested for the disease because they had whooping cough symptoms. As of Monday afternoon, tests results were complete on 17 of the employees and all were all negative, Russum said.

However, all 23 employees must stay home until they complete the five-day course of antibiotics.

“The good news is we haven’t had anyone diagnosed with pertussis as a result of this exposure,” Russum said.

All employees and patients who could potentially have been exposed to the disease have been notified, she said.

The hospital will reimburse the cost of antibiotics for patients who were advised to take antibiotics, Russum said.

An email was sent to hospital employees on Monday saying that they all should be vaccinated by Aug. 15. The shots will be free for all hospital workers. The shot protects against whooping cough as well as diphtheria and tetanus.

The diagnosis of the Everett hospital worker with whooping cough came as the bacterial disease has escalated into an epidemic, both locally and throughout Washington.

So far this year, 388 cases have been confirmed in Snohomish County, compared with 225 reported last year.

Whooping cough can be diagnosed up to 21 days after a person has been exposed to the disease, but it more typically is contracted seven to 10 days after exposure, Russum said.

In adults, symptoms often mimic a cold, with a runny nose and either no fever or a low fever.

Postcards were sent to more than 283,000 households in Snohomish County last month urging children and adults to get vaccinated.

Infants are particularly vulnerable to the disease. It can cause a number of problems, including pneumonia, seizures and trouble breathing. They can’t get their first whooping cough shots until they’re about two months old.

A Lake Stevens infant, Kaliah Jeffery, died from whooping cough last year when she was just 27 days old.

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486; salyer@heraldnet.com.

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