‘Safe and effective’

Sequim Gazette staff

A Clallam County health official has confirmed a case of whooping cough was reported in late December 2010. Dr. Tom Locke, Clallam County health officer, said the patient, a young child living near Sequim, recovered.

Locke said cases of whooping cough — also called pertussis — aren’t altogether rare, with two Washington residents dying of the disease in 2010. The number of reported cases is increasing.

Locke said the disease often is undiagnosed because in most people it resembles an ordinary case of the flu, with perhaps a longer-lasting-than-normal cough.

But he was quick to note, it’s a serious disease.

“Pertussis is really deadly in children under 1,” Locke said. “Virtually all of the deaths we see are those under 6 months of age.”

Health officials across the state and nation are “ramping up” an effort to encourage more Americans to be immunized for whooping cough.

New opportunities

Locke said until recently the vaccine for whooping cough was effective only on children up to 7 years old. That has allowed the bacteria to permanently reside in adolescents and adults, providing a pool for new infections.

The new vaccine can be taken as an adjunct to the standard tetanus/diptheria booster that should be received every 10 years. Locke said the whooping cough vaccine isn’t a standard part of that treatment, so those wanting the vaccine must request it.

He called the new whooping cough vaccine “safe and effective.“

“As far as we know, you only need it once in your life.”

Locke said the new effort to promote the vaccine is particularly targeted at health care workers, who are at greater risk of exposure to whooping cough and who often provide care for infants. He said the emphasis also is on anyone who takes care of infants: “parents, grandparents, baby sitters. We’re trying to surround the infant with a cocoon of immunized people.”

Locke said those who want to be immunized can turn to their regular sources of care for the vaccine. He also noted that, through a federal program, the Clallam County Department of Health and Human Services is providing vaccines for children through age 18. The fee is based on a sliding scale.

The Health and Human Services office is at 111 E. Third St., Port Angeles. For more information, call 417-2411.