Health officials hope to slow whooping cough epidemic with free vaccinations

EVERETT — Whooping cough continues to spread at epidemic rates in Snohomish County. The number of cases reported so far this month nearly matches the number for the entire year in 2010.

Snohomish County typically had been recording between 24 and 45 cases per year, said Dr. Gary Goldbaum, health officer for the Snohomish Health District.

Through the first 25 days of January, 41 cases were reported, he said. In 2010, the county had 46 confirmed or probable cases.

If the disease continues to spread at its current rates, this year’s numbers could easily exceed the 222 cases reported in Snohomish County last year, Goldbaum said.

As part of its efforts to slow the spread of the disease, the Snohomish Health District is providing free vaccines to adults Saturday in Everett and Marysville.

The shots will be offered to low-income men and women who have close contact with infants, to those who don’t have health insurance, and to pregnant women.

Some 450 doses of the vaccine will be available to those who meet the guidelines and register for the event. Appointments can be made starting Monday.

The vaccine is being provided through a $14,000 grant from The Everett Clinic Foundation.

Goldbaum said he’s talking to other area health care organizations to see if they’d be willing to make similar contributions so that more free vaccine can be provided to uninsured adults and pregnant women.

Earlier this month, Goldbaum said that the disease, also known as pertussis, “is epidemic in our community.”

Since the beginning of the month, one or more cases have been reported in schools in Marysville, Bothell, Everett, Granite Falls, Lake Stevens, Lynnwood, Stanwood, Monroe and Arlington.

Whooping cough is a highly contagious disease. Children’s symptoms often include the whooping sound that earned the disease its name. Adults, however, typically have coldlike symptoms that seem to linger with either no fever or a low-grade fever.

Public health officials are urging adults who have close contact with infants to be immunized because babies can’t be immunized until they’re two months old.

Unvaccinated infants have no immunity to pertussis and are at far greater risk of serious health complications, even death, than older children and adults.

One infant, Kaliah Jeffery from Lake Stevens, died Aug. 16 when she was just 27 days old.

The only way infants can be protected, physicians say, is if adults who care for them are vaccinated. That means parents, grandparents, family friends and day care workers.

“If we really want to protect the entire community against pertussis, everyone’s got to be vaccinated,” Goldbaum said. “That’s the only way we’ll stop this.”

Regular doses of the vaccine are recommended for babies and youngsters, provided through the state’s Vaccines for Children program.

At The Everett Clinic, patients as young as 2 months and up to 75 years old have tested positive for the disease, said Dr. Yuan-Po Tu, director of walk-in clinics.

Most adults haven’t been vaccinated because the vaccine wasn’t widely available until 2006, he said. Current guidelines call for adults to get the shot once as adults. The vaccine also protects against diphtheria and tetanus.

Tu said adults seem to be increasingly aware of the disease, sometimes saying that they’ve been exposed to whooping cough and want to be tested.

“There’s certainly that concern out there that did not even exist a year ago,” Tu said.

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

Free vaccinations

Free vaccine to protect adults from pertussis, or whooping cough, will be offered from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at two sites:

•Snohomish Health District, 3020 Rucker Ave., Everett;

Sea Mar Community Health Center, 9710 State Ave., Marysville.

Vaccinations are offered for uninsured or low income adults, targeting pregnant women in their third trimester and adults who have close contact with infants and young children.

Appointments are required and can be scheduled from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. starting Monday. Call 425-388-5088.

Snohomish Health District: www.snohd.org

Herald coverage of whooping cough: http://tinyurl.com/HeraldWhoopingCough

Infant dies of whooping cough: http://tinyurl.com/ HeraldWhoopingCough2

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