Whooping cough (Pertussis) Outbreak in Washington State

Monday April 9, 2012 the State of Alaska sent local physicians a Public Health Advisory regarding whooping cough (pertussis) in Washington State. We have provided a link to the State’s patient handout describing this outbreak and providing more information here:
Whooping cough is a potentially life threatening illness to infants in the first year of life.  It is my understanding that 4 infants have died in Washington due to whooping cough in addition to several others earlier this year in California. There have been a total of 640 cases reported in Washington statewide in 2012 YTD through week 13, compared to 94 reported cases in 2011 during the same time period. Whooping cough is highly contagious between unimmunized or incompletely immunized individuals of all ages. Immunization is a proven safe and effective preventative option but in many states, including Washington, Idaho, Utah, Oregon, California, and Alaska immunization rates have fallen to levels that increase the likelihood of outbreaks. This has already occurred in California and Washington where the number of reported cases, which are typically the tip of the iceberg, are far above the numbers of the last several years. 

Whooping cough starts with symptoms that are difficult to distinguish from the common cold and is even contagious to others even before symptoms begin. For these reasons avoidance of exposure is very difficult. It is reasonable to expect Alaska will not be spared an increase in cases.

We strongly urge that all of our parents assure that their children are adequately immunized as this is the best protection. For homes having infants less than six months of age all individuals in the home should be immunized as further protection to these infants.  After two months of age infants can begin immunizations to prevent whooping cough but adequate protection requires 2-3 doses of vaccine given at least 6 weeks apart. There are very few reasons not to be immunized and the vaccine is very safe compared to the illness.

If you suspect you or your children have whooping cough, or have had a possible exposure,  please call your primary care provider as soon as possible so that we can provide suggestions for treatment and testing.

For more information check in with the State of Alaska Department of Health and Human Services 
or find more info on the DHHS Facebook page.

This is Dr Thad Woodard.  Have a good day.

Dr Woodard is a physician and owner of Alaska Center for Pediatrics