The number of reported cases of pertussis, or whooping cough in Washington State this year is up more than six times the number of cases seen during the same period in 2014, according to health officials.

Image/ National Atlas of the United States
Image/ National Atlas of the United States

There have been a total of 319 cases reported statewide through week 14, compared to 49 reported cases in 2014 during the same time period. Kitsap (85), King (41) and Clark Counties (39) have reported the most cases to date. The burden of cases is among school-aged children and teens.

The overall incidence year to date is 4.7 pertussis cases per 100,000 Washington residents with a rate in infants under one year of age of 26.0 per 100,000.

Pertussis is cyclical and peaks every 3-5 years as the numbers of susceptible persons in the population increases due to waning of immunity following both vaccination and disease. During the last peak year in Washington, 2012, pertussis activity was at epidemic levels with nearly 5,000 cases reported in the state.

Whooping cough (pertussis) is a highly contagious bacterial infection, and one of the most common vaccine-preventable diseases in the United States. Whooping cough is usually spread by coughing or sneezing. If untreated, an infected person can spread whooping cough for several weeks.

The disease usually starts with mild cold symptoms or cough, which can turn into severe coughing spells. The coughing fits can take place for 10 weeks or more. In infants, the cough may be mild or absent. However, infants may have a symptom known as “apnea,” which is a pause in breathing.

Infants and children can cough violently and rapidly, until the air is gone from their lungs and they’re forced to inhale with a loud “whooping” sound. This extreme coughing can result in vomiting and exhaustion. Illness is generally less severe in adolescents and adults.

Babies are especially vulnerable to whooping cough. They often catch the illness from older siblings, parents, or other caregivers.

How can you prevent whooping cough?

DTaP vaccine Infants and children under 7 should receive the DTap vaccine. To maximize protection, all 5 doses of DTaP are needed on time according to the recommended immunization schedule.

Tdap vaccine Adolescents and adults need the Tdap vaccine. The protection received from DTaP, the childhood vaccine, fades over time. Adolescents and adults need Tdap, even if they were completely vaccinated as children. Getting vaccinated with Tdap is especially important for family members with and caregivers of new infants.