Gov. Chris Gregoire has announced an emergency action to slow the spread of whooping cough, aka pertussis, in the state.
Just a month ago, I declared whooping cough had reached epidemic levels in Washington. If the pace continues, we're headed toward the highest number of reported cases here since the early 1940s.
And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Only 10-12 percent of cases are reported because many teens and adults don't get sick enough to go in for medical treatment and testing.
Whooping cough is highly contagious. It causes cold-like symptoms, spreads by coughing and sneezing, and can last for weeks.
It's a miserable illness for teens and adults but very serious for babies who often catch it from relatives and other adults. Sadly, it has taken the lives of four Washington babies in the last two years and hospitalized dozens more.
Our new public service announcement features a Snohomish County mom who lost her newborn daughter to whooping cough. It's a sobering reminder of just how serious whooping cough can be, and it encourages vaccination.
Prevention is key. Whooping cough vaccine is recommended for all kids and adults. It's widely available at clinics, pharmacies and doctor offices.
Everyone 11 and older should get a whooping cough booster. We're buying 27,000 doses of vaccine for adults who can't afford it. Gregoire joined me in urging health care professionals to get vaccinated and to vaccinate their patients.
Younger kids must complete a series of five doses of vaccine by age 7 for full protection. Good health manners also help prevent the spread of whooping cough, like covering your cough and staying home when you're sick.
Immunization exemptions have also played a role in the epidemic. Our state has the highest school immunization exemption rate in the nation at 6.2 percent, compared with a national average of about 2 percent.
There's a lot of misinformation about vaccines, especially online.
One way the state is helping parents get reliable information is through the new immunization exemption law. It requires parents to talk with a health care provider before exempting their child from immunizations required for school entry. The health care professional must sign a form verifying the parent or guardian received vaccine benefit and risk information.
We want parents to get reliable and trustworthy information about vaccines from their health care provider. It's also important for parents to know that their child, if not immunized, may be excluded from school or child care during an outbreak.
To find an immunization clinic, contact your health care provider or local health agency. All recommended vaccines are offered at no cost to all kids under 19 through health care provider offices participating in the state's Childhood Vaccine Program.
Health care providers may charge an office visit fee and a fee to give the vaccine, called an administration fee. People who cannot afford the administration fee can ask the health care provider to waive the cost.
Most health insurance carriers will cover the whooping cough vaccine; adults should double-check with their health plan.
Making sure you're current on your whooping cough vaccine is the best way you can help protect the vulnerable in our communities - the babies that are too young to be fully immunized.
We have lots of information at www.doh.wa.gov. Also, find us on Facebook and on Twitter: @WA_DeptofHealth.
Mary Selecky is the Washington secretary of health.
Free vaccine clinic set in M-F
The Umatilla County Public Health Department has scheduled a free pertussis immunization clinic in Milton-Freewater.
Vaccine will be given to adults and teens. A limited number of doses will be available on a first-come, first-served basis, organizers said. Donations will be accepted.
On May 19, health workers will be at Supermex market, 21 N. Columbia St., 2-4 p.m., to vaccinate for whooping cough, a highly contagious disease caused by bacteria. Pertussis can cause severe respiratory illness in infants and young children but it is usually milder in older children and adults.
According to data from the Oregon Health Authority, Washington state is experiencing a pertussis epidemic this year. As of April 28 there have been 1,132 cases reported, compared with 117 cases for the same time period in 2011.
In Oregon there have been 169 reported cases of pertussis compared with 85 cases for the same time period in 2011.
For more information contact Umatilla County Health Department at 541-278-5432.