State steps up efforts against whooping cough

Snohomish County will soon get nearly 3,000 doses of whooping cough vaccine as part of a statewide effort to provide free immunization to uninsured adults.

The step comes as whooping cough continues to spread throughout Washington at rates not seen in decades.

On Thursday, Gov. Chris Gregoire announced that the state will buy 27,000 doses of the vaccine with funds from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“I think it’s wonderful news that the vaccine will be made available to adults,” said Dr. Gary Goldbaum, health officer for the Snohomish Health District.

The estimated 2,760 doses from the state will be in addition to an ongoing program the public heath agency organized this year to provide free vaccines to low-income and uninsured adults. In six previous free clinics, a total of 1,270 adults were vaccinated.

“We’ve been trying very hard to make the vaccine available at no cost to low-income and uninsured adults,” Goldbaum said. “But such a program can’t reach everyone who ought to be getting the vaccine.”

The health district has one more of these free clinics scheduled on May 9 in Darrington. After that, the free shots will be available to qualifying adults at area pharmacies and clinics. They include: selected area QFC pharmacies, at the health district’s clinics in Everett and Lynnwood, at the Community Health Center of Snohomish County’s clinics in Everett, Edmonds and Lynnwood, at the Safe Harbor Free Clinic in Stanwood and at the Arlington Pharmacy.

The increase in whooping cough cases began last year. But the rate it spread accelerated in the first four months of this year, both in Snohomish County and across the state.

Overall, there have been 1,132 cases of whooping cough reported statewide through April 28 — that’s compared to 117 over the same time last year.

That number could grow to more than 3,000 by year’s end, levels that haven’t been seen in more than six decades, according to state health officials.

Snohomish County has been hit unusually hard, recording some of the state’s highest rates of whooping cough, also known as pertussis.

That number of cases reported in the first four months of this year — 270 — already exceeds the 225 cases reported for all of 2011.

All this led the state Department of Health last month to declare that whooping cough had reached epidemic levels.

“In my 13 years as secretary this is the first time I’ve had to use the word ‘epidemic’ about disease in our state,” Secretary of Health Mary Selecky said Thursday.

“We’re headed for unprecedented numbers of cases,” she said. “We’ve got to keep spreading the word to help prevent the spread of illness.”

Whooping cough is highly contagious. Health officials have been urging adults to get vaccinated.

Infants are particularly vulnerable to the disease. It can cause pneumonia, seizures and trouble breathing.

However, infants can’t get their first whooping cough shots until they’re about 2 months old. So the best way to protect them, health officials say, is to have all adults immunized who are in contact with infants.

It takes a series of shots for children to be fully immunized. By age 7, five immunizations are recommended.

Dr. Yuan-Po Tu, director of walk-in clinics for The Everett Clinic, said there are signs that the disease, although still widespread, may have peaked in Snohomish County.

In December, 10.6 percent of all tests conducted on clinic patients for whooping cough were positive. That number has declined in every month since then. In April 5.6 percent of the tests for whooping cough were positive.

“There’s still a lot of it around,” he said. “But it’s definitely improving.”

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

Free shots

Free adult whooping cough shots will be available from 5 to 7 p.m. on May 9 at Cascade Valley Darrington Clinic, 1190 Riddle St. The shots are provided to low-income and uninsured adults. The immunization prevents whooping cough, tetanus, and diphtheria.

The free shots also are available at selected locations of area clinics and pharmacies. More information is available at the Snohomish Health District website at www.snohd.org/Shd_CD/CDcontrol.aspx.

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