Whooping cough cases decrease in Washington, Oregon

LONGVIEW, Wash. — Whooping cough is on the decline in the Pacific Northwest, with some health officials attributing the drop to immunization efforts. By mid-July, there were 419 cases of whooping cough, or pertussis, in Washington state — down considerably from the same period in 2012 when 3,237 cases were reported, The Daily News reported Wednesday.

State health officials say 14 Washington counties have reported no pertussis at all this year.

Oregon had 910 cases in 2012, but through July of this year, only 314 cases had been reported, according to state health officials.

Michele M. Larsen of the March of Dimes Greater Oregon Chapter said families need to continue their vigilance about the pertussis vaccine for infants and adults even as the numbers are decreasing.

“Newborns are unprotected and it is very serious for infants if they come down with whopping cough,” Larsen said.

Elizabeth Vaughn, epidemiologist for the Cowlitz County Health Department, attributed the decline in local pertussis cases to an aggressive immunization program.

“The message that all people should be vaccinated is correct,” she said.

Pertussis has become a concern across the nation in part because vaccines developed 20 or 30 years ago did not produce lifelong immunity, Aaron Caughey, head of the Obstetrics and Gynecology Department at Oregon Health and Sciences University, said in a March of Dimes press release.

Pertussis is known as whooping cough because of the “whooping” sound people often make while gasping for air during coughing fits. It is a highly contagious bacterial disease that starts off like a cold and leads to severe coughing that can last for weeks.

The disease caused thousands of fatalities every year — particularly among young children — until vaccinations became available in the 1940s. The adult booster shot for pertussis — called the Tdap — has only been available since 2005, so fewer than one in 10 adults are considered adequately immunized, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

To prevent the spread of whooping cough, the March of Dimes and other health organizations are recommending that all pregnant women — even those who have been vaccinated in the past — get vaccinated, ideally during the last three months of pregnancy.

Between the 27th and 36th weeks of pregnancy, the vaccination can cross over the placental membrane and safeguard the baby until it is old enough to be vaccinated at around 2 months of age.

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