Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, has reached "epidemic levels" in the state of Washington, health officials say.
As of March 31, the state had 640 cases compared to 94 cases at the same time last year. This could put Washington "on-pace to have the highest number of reported cases in decades," according to the health department's press release.There have not been any reported deaths, said a spokesman for the health department. The state had two whooping cough deaths in 2010 and two in 2011.Whooping cough is a highly contagious disease caused by bacteria that can lead to severe upper respiratory infections. The bacteria spread in tiny droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Symptoms can resemble a cold at first, but as the disease persists, it may cause severe coughing attacks that end with a high-pitched whooping sound.The disease is preventable through a vaccine, which is given to children through a series of five injections from 2 months to 4 or 6 years of age. Whooping cough is most serious in infants, especially when they're too young to get vaccinated or aren't fully protected yet.Even after all five shots, the childhood vaccine doesn't protect you for life. Booster shots are recommended after age 11 and every 10 years during adulthood through the Tdap vaccine, which also protects against tetanus and diphtheria. Health officials recommend anyone with close contact with babies to get up-to-date with their shots.However, some parents choose to not vaccinate their children or, in other cases, vaccinated people lose their immunity because the vaccine has worn off.Washington health officials have started airing a public service announcement that features a mother who lost her baby to whooping cough last year. The PSA can be heard here.In 2010, whooping cough infected 9,000 people and killed 10 infants in California, in the worst outbreak in the state in 60 years. California passed a law requiring all students in the 7th to 12th grade to get the Tdap booster shot.