Officials urge vaccinations as whooping cough surpasses 3,000 cases statewide

July 25, 2012

By Staff

NEW — 6 a.m. July 25, 2012

State health officials said vaccination protection from whooping cough does not last as long as initially believed, but said vaccination remains the best defense against the illness.

The number of pertussis, or whooping cough, cases in Washington surpassed 3,000 in recent days. The state documented most cases in school-age children vaccinated against pertussis.

“Whooping cough vaccines work but don’t seem to last as long as was expected,” state Secretary of Health Mary Selecky said in a statement. “Even so, vaccinated people who get whooping cough have milder symptoms, shorter illnesses, and are less likely to spread the disease to others. Our biggest concern is keeping babies from getting sick — and vaccination is still the best protection.”

Pertussis is highly contagious and spreads easily from person to person through coughing and sneezing. The disease is most serious for infants, especially children too young to receive the vaccination. Pertussis causes cold-like systems followed by a long, severe cough.

The vaccine against the disease is called Tdap.

Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently published a report about the Washington epidemic. The report highlights more reported cases among 13-14 year olds — a changing trend across the United States. The prevalence of pertussis in the age group indicates a shorter duration for vaccine protection against whooping cough.

In Washington so far in 2012, officials documented 185 cases in children younger than 1, including 39 children hospitalized for pertussis.

“We’ve been working hard to slow the spread of disease and understand better what’s going on,” Selecky said. “CDC has been a huge help. Analyzing the details of the whooping cough epidemic in Washington could help CDC and other states learn some things that weren’t known before, and see this changing trend — and that’s public health in action.”

Information from a study done during the 2010 California whooping cough outbreak showed the DTaP vaccine for children worked well for the initial couple of years after vaccination. The data from California also showed protection decreases to about 70 percent effectiveness five years after vaccination.

“The more we learn about whooping cough, the better we’ll be able to fight this epidemic,” Dr. Maxine Hayes, state health officer, said in a statement. “It’s a miracle a baby hasn’t died in our state yet this year — it has happened before and could happen again. Although vaccine protection wears off over time, vaccination remains the best tool we have to slow the spread of this serious disease. That’s why we’re asking everyone to get vaccinated.”

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