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Whooping cough continues to spread in county

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Zepeda, April
Wednesday, March 21, 2012
Whooping cough continues to spread in county 
Federal officials are recommending that all adults get the vaccine.
By Sharon Salyer, Herald Writer

Whooping cough continues to spread at epidemic rates in Snohomish County, with the number of cases reported in the first 10 weeks of the year rapidly approaching the total for all of last year.

Through mid-March, 180 cases have been reported to the Snohomish Health District. Last year, there were 224 confirmed cases, including one infant death.

Marysville has been hit hard, with 58 confirmed cases this year, the most of any community in the county. But Lake Stevens, Arlington and Everett have each had 20 or more cases.

A combination of factors could cause more reports of the disease, also known as pertussis, in these cities, said Dr. Gary Goldbaum, health officer for the Snohomish Health District. There may, in fact, be more people sickened in these communities, he said. Or physicians may be more alert to look for the signs of whooping cough in these areas, so more cases are reported.

"What I'm seeing is this is widespread," Goldbaum said. "It's not limited to geography or one age group."

For the first time this year, federal health officials are recommending that all adults get the shot, which also protects against tetanus and diphtheria. Nationally, only about 8 percent of adults have received the vaccine, he said.

Most kids have been immunized since the vaccine is among the shots recommended as part of regular childhood immunizations.

To help slow the spread of the disease, the shot will be offered free to low-income and uninsured adults during two clinics. The first is scheduled from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at the Sea Mar medical clinic, 17707 W. Main St. in Monroe.

Another free event is scheduled from 4 to 8 p.m. April 4 at Cascade Valley Hospital, 330 S. Stillaguamish in Arlington.

Some 756 adults have been immunized during three similar pertussis clinics held this year, said Suzanne Pate, health district spokeswoman.

The disease can be a lingering nuisance for adults, who sometimes cough for weeks.

However, it is most worrisome in young children, particularly those younger than two months who haven't had their first dose of the vaccine. The disease can cause a number of problems in infants, including pneumonia, seizures and trouble breathing.

One of the problems in detecting whooping cough is that its symptoms can mimic other diseases, such as the common cold.

"The difficulty we have is sorting out who has pertussis and who doesn't," said Dr. Yuan-Po Tu, director of walk-in clinics for The Everett Clinic. Most of the time, pertussis in kids and adults "can and does look like an upper respiratory infection," with symptoms such as a cough and runny nose, he said.

Since the disease can cause a cough to linger for weeks in older children and adults, it can damage parts of the body's breathing systems, such as the windpipe, he said.

Testing for pertussis can cost about $300, Tu said, and it often takes four to five days for the results.

Whooping cough epidemics often last for six to 12 months, Tu said, and there's no sign that Snohomish County's outbreak has peaked.

"I think this will continue for several more months," he said.


Free vaccination clinics for adults

Free whooping cough vaccine will be offered to low-income and uninsured adults Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Sea Mar medical clinic, 17707 W. Main St., Monroe. Call the Snohomish Health District at 425-339-8694 between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. weekdays for an appointment. Walk-ins can get the shot, but appointments are recommended.

Free shots also will be available at an event scheduled for 4 to 8 p.m. April 4 at Cascade Valley Hospital, 330 S. Stillaguamish, Arlington. Appointments will be taken later this month.