A s Washington state deals with its largest outbreak of whooping cough in many years, the Tahoma School District has confirmed 20 cases here.
Michelle Zaleski, Tahoma’s nursing coordinator, says many other cases have probably gone undiagnosed.
The disease, also known as pertussis, is a bacterial illness that looks a lot like a cold at first (when it is most contagious), then a week or two later leads to an intense, gasping cough. Most children and adults don’t get worse, but pertussis can kill babies.
Last year in Washington, two infants died from whooping cough.
King County is experiencing the highest number of pertussis cases reported for this time of year in the past decade, and more than the reports received in all of last year, county officials said last week.
In April, state Secretary of Health Mary Selecky declared the outbreak an epidemic after more than 1,100 cases were reported statewide, more than 10 times more than were reported by the same time last year. This month, Gov. Chris Gregoire released emergency funds to help cover vaccinations.
Children who receive standard immunizations would have been vaccinated with the DTaP vaccine, which protects against whooping cough, tetanus and diptheria and is usually administered several times before age 7.
Zaleski doesn’t keep statistics on the percentage of Tahoma students whose parents have requested an exemption from the immunization requirements.
The vaccine can wear off after a number of years, however. A booster is available for teens and adults called the Tdap vaccine, and the Centers for Disease Control recommend this every 10 years. Typically, it’s teens and adults who spread whooping cough to infants.
King County health officials recommend:
- Making sure that everyone in the family, including teens, parents and grandparents, is up-to-date on vaccinations.
- Keeping coughing people away from babies and pregnant women.
- Seeing a doctor for symptoms of pertussis, such as a severe cough.
- Staying out of work and school until you have finished five days of antibiotic medicine, if you are diagnosed with pertussis. Without antibiotics, stay out of work or school for three weeks, or until the cough is completely gone.
- Covering coughs and sneezes, washing hands frequently with soap and water, and staying home from work or school when sick.
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