Whooping cough epidemic: Prevention, not panic, needed

Most adults are unaware they need a booster shot for the whooping cough vaccine.

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A whooping cough epidemic was declared in Washington state last week.

This, however, is no reason to panic. It is simply a warning to take reasonable precautions.

The Associated Press reported Washington is the first state to declare a whooping cough -- also known as pertussis -- epidemic since California two years ago. It's called whooping cough because of the sound made from coughing so extreme ribs can be broken.

California has 9,000 cases in the last epidemic. It is predicted Washington will have 3,000 cases by year's end.

So far 1,280 cases have been reported in the Evergreen State, including a few in the Walla Walla Valley.

Gov. Chris Gregoire put $90,000 into a public awareness campaign and diverted 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, AP reported.

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.

Most adults assume they have been vaccinated for whooping cough (and everything else) and they are good to go for life. Most adults would be mistaken.

The adult booster for whooping cough, which is given in combination for tetanus and diphtheria, has been available only since 2005. Only about 10 percent of adults have gotten the booster shot.

The numbers are far higher for school-age children. It's about 70 percent for teens.

CDC spokeswoman Alison Patti said whooping cough isn't spreading because of an anti-vaccine movement. People would likely get the booster if they knew they needed it.

The epidemic has raised awareness of this highly contagious disease and the need to get a pertussis-tetanus-diptheria booster shot.

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