Whooping Cough Epidemic Declared in Wash. State
SEATTLE (AP) - Washington state’s worst outbreak of whooping cough in decades has prompted health officials to declare an epidemic, seek help from federal experts and urge residents to get vaccinated amid worry that cases of the highly contagious disease could spike much higher.
It’s the first state to declare a whooping cough, or pertussis, epidemic since 2010, when California had more than 9,000 cases, including 10 deaths. Washington has had 10 times the cases reported in 2011, and so has Wisconsin with nearly 2,000 cases this year, though that state has not declared an epidemic.
California responded to its crisis two years ago with a public information campaign, readily available vaccines and a new law requiring a booster shot for middle- and high-school students. Doctors were urged to spot whooping cough early, send infected babies to the hospital and promptly treat those diagnosed. In 2011, the number of cases there dropped significantly.
In Washington, about 1,280 cases have been reported in 2012, and officials believe the state could see as many as 3,000 cases by year’s end. Health Secretary Mary Selecky declared the epidemic April 3, and since then officials have bought up the vaccine and made it available for free for people who don’t have insurance.
State officials have asked hospitals to vaccinate every adult who goes home with a new baby, and urged businesses to encourage their employees to get the adult booster shot. Washington already requires a booster shot for middle- and high-school students.
Last week, Gov. Chris Gregoire announced the state is putting $90,000 into a public awareness campaign and diverting some federal money to pay for 27,000 doses of vaccine. The state has also asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to send a special team of investigators and an epidemiologist to the Washington.
State epidemic declarations are up to the states; there are no federal regulations for such decisions. Selecky said this is the first time in her 13 years on the job she has declared a state epidemic, but felt she needed to take action to stop the disease from spreading further.
"When we’ve looked historically, we’ve seen nothing like this," she said. "We’re taking this very seriously."
Adults and teens need booster shots so they don’t give pertussis to the babies in their lives, said CDC spokeswoman Alison Patti