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Whooping cough outbreak reaches 21 cases in Lower Valley

Yakima Herald-Republic - 5/19/2017

May 19--YAKIMA, Wash. -- The Yakima Health District is monitoring an outbreak of pertussis, or whooping cough, in the Lower Valley.

In the past three weeks, 21 cases of pertussis have been reported in people ranging from less than a year old to middle age, Health District director of disease control Melissa Sixberry said.

The majority of the cases have occurred in children ages 10 to 18. Cases have popped up in the Granger and Sunnyside school districts, she said.

Whooping cough is characterized by a dry, hacking cough that lasts for at least two weeks, sometimes accompanied by a distinctive whooping sound on the inhale. In extreme cases, people may cough so hard they vomit, or even suffer rib fractures.

The bacterial infection is treated with antibiotics, but people are infectious from the time they start coughing and sneezing until their fifth and final day of antibiotics, Sixberry said.

Symptoms start five to 21 days after exposure, though the average time is between seven and 10 days after exposure, she said. While the bacteria can live on surfaces, the likeliest way to become infected is exposure to someone else who is coughing and sneezing.

Infants, the elderly and people whose immune systems are otherwise compromised are most vulnerable to pertussis.

To protect against the infection, Sixberry urged parents to make sure that they and their children are fully vaccinated.

Pertussis is the "P" in the DTaP vaccine that children receive in a five-dose course from 2 months of age up to 6 years old. (The vaccine also protects against diptheria and tetanus.)

Later on, children ages 11 or 12 should receive the Tdap booster vaccine. And pregnant women should also receive the booster in their third trimester, regardless of whether they had one in adolescence, because it provides protection for infants in the first two months of life before they can receive the vaccine themselves.

The whooping cough vaccines "are effective, but do not last as long as we would like," says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "However, they are still the best way to protect against whooping cough and its complications."

If someone contracts whooping cough, the symptoms and side effects will be less severe if they have been properly vaccinated, Sixberry said.

According to the CDC, the DTaP vaccines are effective for 8 or 9 out of every 10 children who receive them; effectiveness increases for kids who get all five doses on schedule, protecting 98 of 100 children.

Statewide, there are significantly fewer pertussis cases this year than last year -- 113 cases reported as of May 6 for 2017, compared with 176 cases in the same period of 2016, according to the Department of Health.

Yakima County's cases are not included in the statewide report, though it has more cases than any other county listed.

The numbers are still nowhere close to the epidemic of 2012, which saw more than 2,500 whooping cough cases statewide.



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