Whooping cough epidemic grips Washington

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— It's been the year of years for whooping cough in Washington state. The Department of Health released an update on Tuesday that puts the number of documented cases so far this year at 3,014 through July 14. In 2011, 219 cases had been reported for the same time frame.

This year's rate is 44.8 cases per 100,000 state residents, according to health officials. There have been 185 babies younger than 1 reported as having the disease, and 30 of those were hospitalized. Children ages 10-13 have the highest incident rate -- 218 cases per 100,000 in the age range.

The real number is probably much higher, said Harvey Crowder, administrator for Walla Walla County Public Health Department.

"If it is any indication about what we've seen with other infectious disease conditions, there is usually about 10 unreported cases for every case that gets reported. That happens for a variety of reasons -- no health insurance, people don't want to go, the treating physician calls it something else."

In Walla Walla County, 43 cases have been reported so far, meaning there are more likely 400-500 cases, Crowder added. The state has bought more vaccine, and Walla Walla County has free whooping cough immunization for uninsured people age 19 and over, and "adequate" vaccine for those 18 and younger, Crowder said. "Right now, cost is not a barrier to anyone getting vaccinated for pertussis, for adults or for kids. It's never too late to vaccinate."

Public health staff has been steadily vaccinating for the disease as the epidemic has continued, he said. "Not a ton, but a lot."

His office is asking people to call 524-2650 for vaccination appointments. "We've done away with long waits with the appointment system."

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