Washington State Hit Hard By Whooping Cough

Whooping cough is spreading throughout the country, and now the extremely contagious bacterial disease that causes violent coughing is hitting the state of Washington particularly hard.

Numbers released Tuesday showed that whooping cough cases have risen to 549 in 2012. At this time last year, there were 88 pertussis cases in the state, said Tim Church, communications director of Washington's Health department. The annual number of cases will likely exceed the 950 yearly total that the state saw in 2011.

"We're seeing a nasty streak in pertussis cases and we're absolutely concerned about it," Church told ABCNews.com.

Church said kids need to be protected on both sides, and the health department is encouraging all parents and adults to make sure they're up-to-date on their vaccinations.

"The vaccine we get as children typically wears off as an adult," said Church. "You're no longer immune, and, if you do get whooping cough, the folks around you are in danger, as well."

Doctors typically give whooping couch patients five days of antibiotics. Health officials encourage the entire family of the patient to go on antibiotics, as well. But more importantly, get vaccinated, they say. The dTap vaccine, a shot that prevents diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis, is readily available to the public.

Church said the health department is currently on a media blitz to make sure the public is aware of the rising pertussis cases.

"We are working on a radio PSA announcement and aggressively reaching out to media," said Church. "We have had calls with local health departments to make sure we're all on the same page and we're providing additional information to health care providers and centers on the vaccine."

While people of all ages can come down with whooping cough, even if they've been vaccinated, it's particularly dangerous for newborns' systems because they don't have the immunity or vaccine to fight off the infection. Studies show that about 75 percent of newborns that come down with whooping cough get it from a family member. Of all deaths from pertussis between 2004 and 2008, 83 percent were children less than 3 months old.

Because of the high rate of whooping cough in infants, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently recommended that pregnant mothers get vaccinated with dTap.

"The mother then passes her antibodies to the baby before they are born, and this helps protect the baby against getting whooping cough prior to the time that the infant gets the first three doses of the vaccine," Dr. Jon Abramson, chair of the advisory committee on immunization practices of the CDC, told ABCNews.com in December.

An Associated Press report released in November found that more parents have opted out of school vaccines for their kids. The AP reported that the reasons for declining vaccines varied. Some doubted the need for vaccines, others feared adverse effects and other parents said it's easier to check a box opting out of the shots, rather than go through the necessary paperwork and time.

While anti-vaccine activists argue that there is not enough sound research for vaccination advocacy, Dr. Mark Sawyer, a professor of pediatrics at University of California at San Diego, said that vaccines are actually the best-studied medical intervention. Their safety is well understood because of scientists' ability to track adverse effects of people who receive various vaccines.

"Those studies are going on all the time scanning for rare vaccine reactions," Sawyer told ABCNews.com in December. "By doing so, we now know that vaccines do not cause autism and they do not cause other serious problems. Although any vaccine can have side effects, in all cases the risk of getting the disease is much greater than the risk of a serious side effect from the vaccine designed to prevent that disease."