Doctors warn of jump in whooping cough cases in Snohomish County

  • By Katya Yefimova Herald Writer
  • Saturday, October 1, 2011 12:01am
  • Local News

Snohomish County families need to watch for whooping cough.

As of this week, 85 cases of the highly contagious bacterial infection have been recorded in the county, Snohomish Health District officials said.

In comparison, 25 confirmed cases were registered in the entire county last yea

r, said health district spokeswoman Suzanne Pate.

“This is the time to be sure that your children are immunized,” she said.

Whooping cough, also called pertussis, starts out like a regular cold and progresses to include fits of severe cough followed by a whooping sound and vomiting.

The illness is dangerous for infants and small children. Just more than a month ago, a weeks-old infant in east Snohomish County died of whooping cough.

Infants under 2 months old are especially at risk because they are too young to get the DTaP vaccine, which protects against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis.

Older kids and adults often have mild symptoms.

So far, 12 Snohomish County infants have been sickened by whooping cough, and three were hospitalized in addition to the one who died.

“It’s especially important to surround infants with a protective cocoon of immunity by immunizing their mothers, all caregivers and others who will be close to the baby,” said Dr. Gary Goldbaum, health officer for the district.

The vaccine is administered at 2, 4 and 6 months of age. A fourth dose is administered between 12 and 18 months, and a fifth after age 4. Teens get a shot between ages 11 and 18.

Immunity from the vaccine wanes over time, so another dose is recommended after age 19.

A national health committee on immunizations recently advised that pregnant women get the vaccine before delivery, not after.

“Part of the reason for the higher numbers this year is that medical providers are on the alert for pertussis and are testing for it,” Goldbaum said.

However, the high number of children who are not vaccinated might be another reason for the jump. Washington leads the nation in the rate of immunization exemptions. Teens and adults who haven’t been vaccinated are a key factor in spreading the disease, he said.

Of the 85 whooping cough cases confirmed in Snohomish County so far this year, 34 were school-age children; 25 were adults; 14 were children ages 1 to 5; and 12 were infants.

The illness can easily go undiagnosed because many conditions are accompanied by coughing, said Amy Blanchard, a nurse at the health district. She is the manager of the agency’s program that tracks whooping cough cases.

The agency has sent out notices around the county alerting health-care providers to the increase in whooping cough.

“Our doctors are vigilant, and they are asking the right questions,” Blanchard said.

It can take up to 21 days for patients to develop symptoms after they are exposed to the infection, which spreads through coughing and sneezing. You can give it to others until you’ve been treated with antibiotics for five days, or until you’ve been coughing for 21 days, she said.

If you think you or your child might have whooping cough, see a doctor. Be sure to let the doctor’s office know that you have the symptoms — to protect other patients in the waiting room.

Katya Yefimova: 425-339-3452,

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