Four confirmed whooping cough cases in Pierce County in the past two weeks have local health authorities worried about a possible epidemic.
Whooping cough, known in medical circles as pertussis, is highly contagious and one of the most commonly occurring vaccine-preventable diseases in the United States.
In a health advisory issued Thursday, the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department announced that, in addition to the four confirmed whooping cough cases, four suspected cases have been reported in Pierce County since late June.
The numbers are relatively small, said Joby Winans, a spokeswoman for TPCHD, but they are made more worrisome by the fact that several other states have reported increased numbers of pertussis cases this year.
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California has reported more than 900 cases and five infant deaths due to pertussis as of June 15. Three weeks ago, California declared a pertussis epidemic.
People infected with the bacteria usually spread the disease by coughing or sneezing while in close contact with others, who then breathe in the pertussis bacteria. Starting with cold-like symptoms, and maybe a mild cough, pertussis is often not suspected or diagnoses until a persistent cough with spasms sets in after one to two weeks of illness.
Vaccine prevents pertussis. For children, the vaccine, called DTaP, protects against pertussis, diphtheria and tetanus. For maximum protection, children needs five DTaP shots, given at age: two months; four months; six months; 12 months (at least six months since the third dose); and, when a child starts schools, at 4-6 years old.
The Health Department recommends pertussis boosters for adolescents and adults. The vaccine booster, called Tdap, should be given to youth at age 11 or 12 years. Adults who did not receive Tdap as a preteen or teenager should get a dose of Tdap instead of the Td booster (Tetanus and diphtheria only). Pregnant women not previously vaccinated with Tdap should receive a dose of Tdap before leaving the hospital or birthing center after giving birth.
Adolescents and all adults who live or work with infants or are trying to become pregnant should receive a catch-up vaccination against pertussis if they have never been vaccinated with Tdap, Winans said.