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Washington Whooping Cough Epidemic Raises Questions About Booster Timing

Ruby de Luna

The number of whooping cough cases in Washington continues to rise. This year there are over 2,700 cases reported. Health officials say the epidemic hasn't peaked yet.


In April, Secretary of Health Mary Selecky declared that whooping cough has reached epidemic levels in Washington. At the time, she said if the pace of infection continues the number of cases could reach 3,000 this year.

Selecky: "I'd like to say we're on the downside of this illness, but we're not. We still have children and babies getting sick from pertussis."

Pertussis, or whooping cough, is a highly contagious respiratory infection. It can be fatal to babies. Selecky says this year, 170 babies have been infected, 36 of them were hospitalized.

In May the state called for federal help. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sent a team of epidemiologists. Selecky says they looked at the data. They found that kids between ages 10–13 have the highest rates of infection. That's about the age when they're supposed to get a pertussis booster.

The CDC is still trying to find out why this age group is susceptible. Selecky says vaccines from infancy wear off over time. This outbreak raises questions like when should kids get the booster shots?

Selecky: "That's one that CDC is looking at. And of course, in Washington state we know we have kids who are under–vaccinated, meaning they haven't had all the shots that would protect them, and some are unvaccinated. But many of our cases have been kids who are vaccinated, so that's why this becomes important for these experts from the Centers for Disease Control to look at what's going on here."

Selecky says she hopes to have more information by the end of the month. That's when the CDC is expected to issue a report of their findings. In the meantime, she's urging adults to get vaccinated.

I'm Ruby de Luna, KUOW News.

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