Health agency urges parents to take whooping cough prevention measures

October 11, 2011

By Staff

State health officials said whooping cough, or pertussis, is a serious concern as infants contract the disease at a much higher rate than other people.

The rate of whooping cough in babies is almost 10 times greater than the combined rate of all people of all ages statewide. The state Department of Health said 58 infants younger than 1 received whooping cough diagnoses in 2011. The total includes 22 infants hospitalized for whooping cough and two babies that died from the disease.

“Whooping cough is a serious illness, especially for babies who are too young to be vaccinated,” Dr. Maxine Hayes, state health officer and pediatrician, said in a statement. “Older kids and adults can help protect babies by getting the pertussis vaccine. By being vaccinated, close contacts of infants create a protective ‘cocoon’ for newborns and infants who can’t yet be vaccinated or have not completed their initial vaccine series.”

Pertussis is highly contagious and spreads easily from person to person through coughing and sneezing. The disease causes coughing spells so severe that it is difficult for infants to eat, drink or even breathe. Pertussis can lead to pneumonia, seizures and even death.

What to know

Learn more about whooping cough and preventing it from Public Health – Seattle & King County at services/health/communicable/ diseases/pertussis and the state Department of Health’s Immunization and CHILD Profile at Or call 360-236-3595. The state agency maintains a weekly pertussis update to track cases statewide.

Older children and adults may experience milder symptoms than babies, and may mistake the condition for a cold or persistent cough.

Health officials recorded 431 cases of whooping cough from 26 counties — up from 378 cases by the same time last year.

The pertussis vaccine, Tdap, is available for adolescents and adults through age 64. Health officials urge pregnant women to get vaccinated, as well as health care workers of all ages who come into contact with infants. Moreover, people of all ages should get immunized if they have close contact with a baby.

Most people receive a series of pertussis vaccines as children, but the protection wears off over time. The state Department of Health recommends people substitute a Tdap vaccine for a routine tetanus booster. Only one Tdap vaccine is recommended in a person’s lifetime.

The initial symptoms of pertussis resemble the common cold — sneezing, runny nose, a low-grade fever and a mild cough. Then, within two weeks, the cough can become severe and can develop into coughing spells followed by a high-pitched whoop.

Infected people can spread the disease from the start of the symptoms until three weeks after the coughing episodes start, although antibiotics can reduce the contagious period.

People suffering from a severe cough, especially if it includes fits of coughing or causes vomiting, should seek medical care. In addition, they should stay away from babies, young children and pregnant women until tested and treated for pertussis.

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