Wash. asks CDC for help fighting whooping cough

Gregoire said the state would put $90,000 into pertussis public awareness.

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SEATTLE (AP) -- The state Health Department is asking the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help battle the whooping cough epidemic in Washington.

Health Secretary Mary Selecky is asking the CDC to send a special team of investigators and epidemiologist.

Selecky is briefing Sen. Maria Cantwell about the situation today at a state lab in Shoreline.

Selecky declared on April 3 that pertussis was an epidemic in the state. More than 1,100 cases have been reported this year -- 10 times the number at this time last year.

On Thursday, Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire said the state is putting $90,000 into a public awareness campaign and diverting some federal money to pay for 27,000 doses of vaccine.

Adults are urged to get the shot to prevent spreading the disease to infants.

The state Department of Health is already looking to spend about $200,000 on the effort.

"Pertussis is very serious, especially for babies," Secretary of Health Mary Selecky said in a statement. "It's vital that teens and adults are current on their immunizations because they're often the ones who give whooping cough to babies."

The state has also received approval from the federal government to divert some federal cash toward the purchase of 27,000 doses of the whooping cough vaccine. Those will be available for uninsured residents.

Pertussis is a highly contagious respiratory illness spread by coughing and sneezing. Infants are particularly vulnerable to it because they can't be immunized before 4 to 6 weeks.

So far this year, 20 children under the age of 1 have been hospitalized for whooping cough, according to state data.

Last year, two babies in Washington died from the illness.

Babies often get the illness from adults and family members because the shots children get wear off over time. Officials want residents to get a whooping cough booster, called a Tdap.

Washington has already recorded 1,132 cases of whooping cough this year -- about 10 times more than the same time last year, according to disease investigators at the Department of Health. The state is recording more than 400 cases of pertussis each month -- four times more than the threshold that state officials consider "epidemic" levels -- and Washington is on pace for as many as 3,000 cases in 2012.

Those are numbers that haven't been seen in decades.

"In my 13 years as secretary this is the first time I've had to use the word 'epidemic' about disease in our state," Selecky said.

Health officials say only about 10 percent of cases are typically reported, so the number tabulated by state officials show only a fraction of the total cases statewide. Skagit County is somewhat of an epicenter this year, with more than 200 cases. That's a rate about three times higher than the next nearest county -- Jefferson.

The public awareness campaign will include a radio ad airing statewide, as well as public service announcements, said Health Department spokesman Tim Church. Officials also plan advertisements on Facebook and Google, and they are exploring bus and billboard ads.

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