State calls pertussis cases an 'epidemic'

The reported cases of pertussis this year jumped by 200 in a single week in early May, to a total of 1484, according to the Washington Department of Health. That is more than ten times the number of cases reported in the state during the same period last year.

The San Juan County Health Department reports probable cases have been identified on Orcas, Lopez and San Juan Island, but with a low infection rate.

“Normally, the number of cases subside during the summer months, but it returns with a vengeance in the fall,” said County Personal Health Services Manager Susan Leff. Between September 1 and December 31 of last year, San Juan County had 51 cases of the disease – two requiring hospitalization.

Pertussis, sometimes called “whooping cough” is a highly infectious respiratory illness that can be deadly to young infants. It is spread by sneezing and coughing. More information on the disease is available at

“During an epidemic, we worry most about newborns because they are most vulnerable to complications and lack vaccine-protection,” Leff said.

The vaccine is highly effective at protecting individuals from Pertussis. Leff advises parents to make sure their children are vaccinated and all adults over 19 years of age need a one-time booster “Tdap” shot.  Babies under six months of age are too young for the vaccine, so it is important that everyone who comes in contact with them to be vaccinated.

To help all adults get vaccinated and build community immunity, the San Juan County Health Department is offering a series of Tdap drop-in clinics with extended hours at County public health clinics: sliding scale pricing is available at all clinics.

Friday Harbor - May 29, 2-6 p.m.

Lopez - May 29, 1-6 p.m.

Orcas - May 31, 11-6 p.m.

The health department recommends that all adults, including grandparents, receive a one-time Tdap booster, even if they had had pertussis illness in the past.  This includes grandparents and anyone who will have direct or indirect contact with babies. The Health Department’s goal is to have 90 percent of the community vaccinated against pertussis.

Appointments for vaccination and more information are available from the San Juan County Health and Community Services Department at 378-4474.


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