Whooping cough is epidemic

Local and state officials are saying that the number of whooping cough cases in King County and Washington state is reaching dangerous levels.

Gov. Christine Gregoire appeared on television last week to urge people to update their vaccinations. Even U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell weighed in on the matter.

The number of confirmed and probable cases of the illness reported through April 28, 2012, in Washington state is up to 1,132 — an increase from 117 in the same period a year ago.

According to the Washington State Department of Health, statewide there have been between 184 and 1,026 cases of pertussis each year over the past decade, with zero to two deaths each year.

The majority of cases reported so far this year have occurred in people 18 years and younger. More than half of the cases have been reported in the three most northwestern counties in the state; Whatcom County with 78 cases; Skagit County, with 234 cases; and Snohomish County, with 229 cases. Skagit County, with just 119,000 residents, has the highest incidence of cases statewide, with one confirmed case for every 196 people.

All three counties lie along the I-5 corridor adjacent to the Canadian border.

Continuing south along I-5, there have been 125 cases reported in King County, and 147 in Pierce County. Nearer to the Oregon state line, there have been 39 cases in Cowlitz County and 84 in Clark County.

Pertussis (whooping cough) is a highly contagious bacterial infection that causes a long-lasting and often severe cough. Bordetella pertussis, a bacterium, causes pertussis. The illness usually starts with mild cold symptoms or a cough, which can turn into severe coughing spells followed by gagging, or vomiting, and sometimes a “whoop” sound when trying to catch the breath.

Infants who are very susceptible may or may not make the ‘whooping’ sound, but can turn blue, lose their appetites and become lethargic.


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