The whooping cough epidemic ravaging Washington state this year had left Whitman County untouched, until a 9-year-old girl contracted the disease last week.
The child is now well on her way to recovery, if not fully recovered already, said Fran Martin, Whitman County’s director of public health. The girl's close friends and family have been advised to see doctors and monitor their health.
Pertussis cases in Washington state are up threefold from last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Despite the dramatic increase, Martin said she thinks whooping cough will steer clear of the Palouse.
The contagious disease can at first resemble the common cold, but violent, uncontrollable coughing is often a sure sign of pertussis, Martin said. While the illness can be uncomfortable for adults, it can result in death in infants. Fortunately, the Washington epidemic has not yet taken any lives, Martin said.
Mary Selecky, Secretary of the Washington State Deparment of Health, said in a press conference last week that more than 3,000 cases have been reported in the state this year. When the pertussis outbreak was declared an epidemic in April, there had only been 640 cases.
"The whooping cough situation in Washington state has been incredibly challenging," said Selecky. "We're seeing the largest number of cases in our state since the early 1940s."
The epidemic may be caused by a shorter protection time provided by vaccines. Selecky said the CDC will be conducting a study into how long the vaccine actually protects against whooping cough
Martin of Whitman County said children between the ages of 10 and 13 have the highest incident rate. She suspects this is because the vaccine, which is administered to children ages 6 to 10, wears off earlier than it should.
“The vaccine is not protecting us as long as it was previously thought,” she said.
Martin encouraged those preparing to return to Pullman to get the pertussis vaccine. The local Department of Health has resources to help those without insurance, she said. Child care workers and pregnant women should take special care to get vaccinated, she said.