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May 11, 2012

Virginia Mason's Michael Myint, MD, answers common questions about whooping cough.

The Washington State Department of Health reports whooping cough (pertussis) cases are continuing to increase. As of April 30, more than 1,100 pertussis cases were reported compared to 117 last year during the same time period. This is the highest number of reported cases in more than six decades and it is expected this epidemic will continue for several months.

Whooping cough is a highly contagious respiratory illness spread by coughing and sneezing. It affects people of all ages — but is most serious in infants, especially those too young to get vaccinated or who aren't fully protected. It causes cold-like symptoms followed by a long, severe cough that can last for weeks. Adolescents and adults often get a much milder case of whooping cough, but they can still spread it.

"The 2012 increase in whooping cough (pertussis) in the Puget Sound area reminds everyone to 'cover your cough' as well as frequently wash your hands," says Michael Myint, MD, section head of Infectious Diseases at Virginia Mason. "If you are ill, contact your provider to determine if testing for pertussis is indicated. The best prevention is to make sure children and adults are immunized, especially those who will be around babies, to limit the spread of both diseases."

Whooping cough vaccines are recommended for all children and adults. The shots children get as part of standard childhood vaccinations, wear off over time. Everyone age 11 and older should get a whooping cough booster, called Tdap. It's especially important for anyone who has close contact with babies younger than 12 months to get a dose of Tdap to help protect the baby from whooping cough. This includes parents, siblings, grandparents, health care providers and child care providers.

To get vaccinated for whooping cough, contact the Virginia Mason Primary Care Department nearest you.

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