State to get CDC help against whooping cough epidemic

It comes after Gov. Christine Gregoire released emergency money to pay for more vaccine, and one month after the Department of Health declared a statewide epidemic.

State Health Secretary Mary Selecky took Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., on a tour Friday through the Washington State Department of Health facility and showed the senator how pertussis (whooping cough) testing is done in this lab.

It`s a high-tech facility that is able to test for pertussis in one day.

“We had 100 cases (of whooping cough) this time last year,” Selecky said. “Now we have 1,000 – that’s tenfold. So what’s going on?”

Selecky and Cantwell sent a letter to the CDC asking for a special team of disease investigators to help the lab identify why whooping cough is spreading so quickly and to pinpoint  the most effective methods to contain the disease.

The team is called the Epi-Aid team. Last year, the CDC responded to 84 requests for Epi-Aid teams, which were sent to 39 states and 14 foreign countries. Last year, Epi-Aid investigators conducted 293 field investigations around the world.

“They'd been involved in H1N1 (swine flu prevention), earthquake in Haiti, response to some of the things that happened there, these are some of the people involved in a pertussis outbreak in California and other places,” Cantwell said. 

The team is expected to arrive in Western Washington next week to work closely with epidemiologists, conduct interviews at the local health department level and pool all the information.

A common cause of the illness among children is adults who have the disease and pass it on. Among children, whooping cough can be lethal. The Department of Health has recommended a series of DTaP vaccines for those under age 7, and a booster called Tdap for for those aged 11 and older.