Providence worker found with whooping cough

A health care worker at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett has been diagnosed with whooping cough, part of the ongoing epidemic that has sickened nearly 400 children and adults this year in Snohomish County.

Fifty-three employees have been told that they likely were exposed to the disease, also known as pertussis. Another 300 employees have been notified that they were potentially exposed, said Teresa Wenta, hospital spokeswoman.

“What we want people to understand is we’re doing everything we can to minimize the spread of this,” she said. “Any patient potentially exposed will be contacted.”

Employees who are concerned that they may have symptoms of pertussis are being told to go to the hospital’s employee health department.

“Our clinicians will take it from there,” Wenta said.

A few patients currently being treated at the hospital also were potentially exposed to whooping cough, she said. Any patients with symptoms will be tested and treated with antibiotics.

On Tuesday, Wenta said she was not aware of any current patients with whooping cough symptoms.

Patients recently discharged and potentially exposed are being identified. Both patients and their physicians are being notified,

“If you have symptoms, be aware,” and you will be prescribed antibiotics, Wenta said.

Any patient treated at the hospital within the past 21 days who develops whooping cough can receive antibiotics from the hospital, she said.

Adults typically have cold-like symptoms that seem to linger with either no fever or a low-grade fever.

When whooping cough is epidemic, as it is in Snohomish County and in Washington, many adults who may have the disease don’t feel sick enough to go to a doctor and get tested, but can be contagious.

The hospital was notified Monday afternoon that a health care worker on its Colby Campus had a confirmed case of the disease, even though the employee had received the whooping cough vaccination, Wenta said.

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

“The health care worker was fully vaccinated,” Goldbaum said. With so much pertussis circulating in the community, it’s not too surprising that the employee became infected, he said. The vaccine is not 100 percent effective.

There have been several other cases of health care workers in Snohomish County being diagnosed with pertussis since the number of cases began to rise in 2011, Goldbaum said.

So far this year, 388 cases have been confirmed in Snohomish County, compared with 225 reported last year, he said. Local and state health officials said the highly contagious disease had reached epidemic levels earlier this year.

“To me the issue is, we don’t have everyone in the community vaccinated,” Goldbaum said. “That’s why we can expect cases where the most vulnerable in our community are being exposed.”

While the disease can be a lingering nuisance for adults, it is most worrisome in young children, particularly those younger than 2 months who haven’t had their first dose of vaccine.

With no immunity, the disease can cause a number of problems in infants, including pneumonia, seizures and troubles with breathing.

Goldbaum said that the public health agency was notified that a health care worker at the hospital had been diagnosed with whooping cough.

The hospital, which has an infection control department, is handling the response to the disease, he said.

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

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