A quick poke can help stem the whooping cough epidemic

  • Tue Jul 31st, 2012 6:18pm

<b>YOUR HEALTH | </b>By Ashley Stewart Herald writer

Washington state is part of a nationwide whooping cough epidemic, contributing more than one-sixth of the country’s nearly 18,000 reported cases.

With 437 reported cases in Snohomish County alone, health officials are working to provide pre-emptive vaccinations to adults to prevent spread of the disease – also called pertussis – to infants, for whom infection can be fatal.

To help build immunity from diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis, children younger than age 7 are vaccinated with a series called DTaP. Then, at age 11, children receive a booster called Tdap to help provide continued protection.

Even if a child receives these shots, immunity provided by the vaccine can wane over time. The Washington State Department of Health estimates that more than 70 percent of reported cases in teens ages 13 to 19 and children younger than 10 received one or both of the vaccinations before infection.

Gary Goldbaum, health officer and director at the Snohomish Health District, urges that, while immunity may decrease, vaccinations are still important.

“If you wear a seat belt, will it save you in every crash? The answer is no. But it’s probably going to provide great protection,” Goldbaum said.

Pertussis is particularly dangerous to infants, who have small respiratory systems and no innate immunity to fight off infection. Last year, a Snohomish County infant died of whooping cough. There have been 18 cases of pertussis in infants in Snohomish County this year, and no pertussis-related deaths.

Snohomish Health District spokeswoman Suzanne Pate suggests that while pertussis may not be as threatening to adults, it is important to get vaccinated to protect infants.

“Adults are the reservoir for pertussis in this county,” she said.

The Snohomish Health District urges pregnant women in their third trimester, child care and health care staff, and anyone else who has or will have contact with an infant to get a shot. Still, the district’s goal is to get everyone vaccinated.

Washington state provides “universal vaccination,” meaning that children receive free shots. Typically, health care providers charge only for the administration of vaccines to children. Some do them for free.

“Frankly, there are no barriers for children to get vaccines in the state. There are barriers for adults,” Goldbaum said.

In response, the Snohomish Health District has helped to provide opportunities for free vaccination to low-income adults at community events. The final event is from 4 to 7 p.m. Aug. 7 during National Night Out at the South Everett Neighborhood Center, 215 Mukilteo Blvd.

Bartell Drugs in Bothell, Edmonds and Lynnwood and the QFC pharmacy in Edmonds provide Tdap vaccinations to uninsured, low-income adults for a $10 to $15 fee. No proof of income is required and financial status is determined based on the “honor system.” Insured adults who are able to afford the vaccine are urged to do so through their health care provider as pharmacies have access to a limited supply.

Stop pertussis

To further prevent the spread of the whooping cough epidemic, Snohomish Health District health officer Gary Goldbaum refers to the “public health mantra” adopted during the H1N1 scare:

• Wash your hands

• Cover your cough

• Stay home if you’re ill

• Get vaccinated

“If everyone does that all the time, we’re gonna be in good shape,” he said.