Pregnant women urged to get pertussis vaccine; whooping cough cases on the rise in Snohomish County

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Dr. Gary Goldbaum
Dr. Gary Goldbaum

In a trend consistent with information released by the Washington State Department of Health, the number of whooping cough (pertussis) cases in Snohomish County is increasing.

Since January, there have been 40 confirmed cases and most of which have been in the last few weeks. This compares to just 57 and 23 cases in all of 2013 and 2014 respectively.

Whooping cough is a serious disease that affects the respiratory system and is spread by coughing and sneezing. Of the 40 cases in our county, nearly three-quarters have been students between the ages of 6 and 18. This is not surprising given the close quarters students keep during the school day.

“We are seeing an explosion of pertussis cases statewide and locally,” said Dr. Gary Goldbaum, health officer and director at the Snohomish Health District. “Thankfully we are not at the epidemic levels last seen in 2012, and I am hopeful that by all of us doing our part, we can spare Snohomish County from a repeat.”

Everyone exposed—whether it’s other classmates, friends or family members—must be assumed to be potentially infected. This is why the Snohomish Health District works in close partnership with schools and local health providers. In recent weeks, staff have sent letters to parents and caregivers at 12 schools across the county, as well as a handful of local community groups and youth activity clubs.

The single most effective way to prevent whooping cough is the pertussis vaccine. Public health’s primary concern is protecting the most vulnerable—infants who cannot be immunized until six weeks old. For that reason, it is absolutely critical that pregnant women receive the Tdap vaccine with every pregnancy.

This is a slight departure from recommendations during the 2012 epidemic, mainly because vaccine science is continuing to evolve. Research shows that pregnancy changes the immune system in mothers, and waiting until delivery to administer the vaccine still puts the newborn at risk. Receiving the vaccine during the third trimester, and ideally in conjunction with the 28-week glucose screening, provides maximum benefit to the mother and her baby.

“By working together, we can ensure a safer and healthier community,” said Goldbaum. “It is up to all of us to protect our children so that they can get the healthy starts they deserve.”

It is also important that everyone coming into close contact with newborns is immunized. This includes siblings, grandparents, caregivers, and other friends and family. The Affordable Care Act, and increased access at local pharmacies, has made getting immunized easier than ever. Please talk with your health care provider to see if  vaccinations are up to date.

April 18-25 is National Infant Immunization Week. Pertussis and many other diseases are entirely preventable thanks to advances in vaccines. Once newborns reach the six-week mark they need to begin the immunization series schedule for pertussis and other vaccine preventable diseases as recommended. To learn more, visit http://www.snohd.org/Healthy-Living/Immunizations.

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