Island Hospital
Pertussis Outbreak
5/11/2012Peter Browning, Director, Skagit Public Health
Since the beginning of April, the state of Washington has reached epidemic levels of those contracting pertussis, also known as “whooping cough”. More than 1008 cases have been reported statewide through late April, compared to 695 cases in 2011. Of this total, Skagit County had 200 cases reported and we are anticipating hundreds more. We have the highest rate in the state with 166.8 per 100,000 population.
Pertussis is a highly contagious respiratory illness spread by coughing and sneezing that affects people of all ages. However, it is most serious in infants under one year old. Symptoms are similar to a cold followed by a long, severe “dry” cough that can last for weeks. Adolescents and adults often get a milder case of pertussis, but they continue to spread it. This dry cough leads to gagging, vomiting and a catching breath sound (or “whoop”) at the end of the coughing spell. Infants may turn blue and even stop breathing. Pertussis starts with a dry cough, sore throat, runny nose, low grade fever and, in seven to 10 days, progresses to convulsive coughing fits.
Pertussis can be very serious for young babies, who often get the condition from adults and other family members. Those of us in public health are very concerned about the rise in reported cases and urge all teens and adults of all ages to be vaccinated with TdaP to help protect babies who are too young for the vaccine or have not completed their first series of four DTaP vaccines. The adult TdaP is only licensed for a one-time adult boost. We urge all providers to vaccinate with the fourth dose of DTaP at 12 months instead of 18 months during an outbreak.
Recently, the state Department of Health ran public-service announcements that featured a Snohomish County mother who lost her 26-day-old newborn daughter to pertussis.
The vaccines most children and adults get over time wear off, as well as previous disease immunity, so it’s a good time to get the booster vaccine. This is especially important for anyone who has close contact with babies younger than one year including parents, siblings, grandparents, healthcare providers and child-care providers.
Please check with your healthcare provider to ensure that you and your family are vaccinated. For more information on pertussis, visit or or
To contact a public-health nurse in Skagit County call 360-336-9477, in San Juan County call 360-378-4474.