Whooping cough now ‘epidemic’

The biggest outbreak of whooping cough to hit South Whidbey in 15 years is now being called an epdemic.

“It’s an epidemic. We can easily see it spreading,” said Freeland pediatrician Robert Wagner. “My office has reported 11 positive cases and I know there are more out there.”

Island County Medical Officer Dr. Roger Case agreed.

“This is a local epidemic and we want to get our arms around it, so it doesn’t spread,” Case said.

Four more cases of whooping cough, or pertussis, were officially reported over the weekend on South Whidbey, bringing the total to 22.

Case said he has advised principals of all island schools of the situation, and warned them to make sure non-immunized children stay home from activities where they can come in contact with the disease.

Case noted it takes 24 to 36 hours for a laboratory report to get back to a doctor’s office in order to confirm that whooping cough is present.

Wagner said that he’s seen the disease in children ages 10 to 12, especially from large families.

He said there is a bias against vaccination on the South End but when there’s an epidemic, people have to plan for prevention.

“A person needs at least three shots before we know whether the vaccine is effective,” Wagner said. “It takes up to a month to determine if the shot has taken.”

“Frankly, if you’re coughing, it’s too late and we’ll administer an antibiotic to treat the symptoms,” he added.

Health professionals said, as a general rule, if a person gets the disease and has been vaccinated, the effects will be mild because the vaccine isn’t 100 percent effective.

Case added that anyone having a persistent cough for more than a few days should consider the possibility they may have pertussis, which is spread by coughing.

Immunization sharply reduces the chances for contracting the disease.

Before age 7, children should get five doses of the required vaccine. These are usually given at age 15-18 months, 2, 4 and 6.

Case said people suspected of having pertussis should avoid contact with others until they are no longer contagious and take the full course of antibiotic treatment.

Wagner said people need to assume they have pertussis if they begin coughing and seek early treatment.

“Go see your doctor,” he said.

For more information, visit All cases of pertussis should be reported to the Island County Health Department immediately at 360-679-7350.

Jeff VanDerford can be reached at 221-5300 or

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