State health officials have already recorded 640 cases of whooping cough (technically, pertussis) in 23 Washington counties as of March 31, compared to 94 cases during the same period last year. That puts the state on track for the most cases since 1942, prompting Secretary of Health Mary Selecky to declare a whooping cough "epidemic."
"I have not used that word very often in my 14 years as secretary," cautioned Selecky during a late-morning conference call. Whooping cough outbreaks tend to come in three to five year cycles, but Selecky says that "this year's peak is higher than anything we've seen." And, she added, this is "only the tip of the iceberg."
With symptoms that often mimic those of a bad cold, most infected adults never seek treatment, meaning only 10 to 12 percent of cases are ever reported, according to Selecky. But those infected remain very contagious for the first three weeks of the disease, and whooping cough can be very serious in infants, even deadly. (Infants can't be immunized until they are four to six weeks old, so they are doubly vulnerable.) So far this year 13 Washington infants have been hospitalized with the disease, though none have died.
So what does Selecky want us to do? Get the fuck vaccinated! (My phrasing, not hers.) Adults and teens need regular booster shots; if it's been 10 years since your last "Tdap" vaccine, you're due. And all children must get a series of five "DTaP" shots before the age of seven to be fully vaccinated.
Now I understand that there are some stupid fucking anti-vaccine hippies out there, convinced that vaccinations are a government plot to turn their kids into special ed students, and under normal circumstances I suppose that correcting these misconceptions would call for persistent public outreach and gentle persuasion. But these aren't normal times. We're in the midst of an epidemic. So get yourself and your kids vaccinated before you kill a baby.