Wash. State Frees Emergency Cash to Curb Whooping Cough

Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire is tapping into emergency funds to help contain a whooping cough epidemic spreading throughout the state.

The $90,000 in crisis cash will be used to boost vaccination awareness.

"These actions will help state and local health leaders get vaccine into people's arms so we can stem the tide," Gregoire said Thursday in a statement.

Washington has seen more than 1,130 cases of whooping cough this year, up from 117 cases in the same stretch last year.

"I've been following the epidemic closely and the continued increase in cases has me very concerned about the health of our residents. I'm especially concerned about the vulnerable babies in our communities that are too young to be fully immunized," Gregoire said.

Whooping cough is unofficial for pertussis, a contagious bacterial infection that causes uncontrollable coughing interrupted by whooping gasps for air. The infection is preventable with the dTap vaccine, a series of five shots that boost immunity against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis.

The first dose of dTap is given two months after birth, making infants particularly vulnerable to whooping cough from unvaccinated adults. About 75 percent of newborns who come down with whooping cough catch it from a family member, studies found.

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

The state Department of Health has pledged an additional $210,000 to the vaccine awareness effort.

"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. "We're headed for unprecedented numbers of cases. We've got to keep spreading the word to help prevent the spread of illness."

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has approved the redirection of federal funds designated for other immunizations to buy more than 27,000 doses of pertussis vaccine for adults who are uninsured or underinsured, Gregoire said.