Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire opened an emergency fund Thursday to help contain a spreading whooping cough epidemic, and officials urged residents to get vaccinated against an illness that particularly threatens infants.
Gregoire is making $90,000 in crisis cash available to help strengthen a public awareness campaign about the need for the pertussis vaccination. The state Department of Health is already looking to spend about $200,000 on the effort.
The state has also received approval from the federal government to divert some federal cash toward the purchase of 27,000 doses of the whooping cough vaccine. Those will be available for uninsured residents.
Pertussis, or whooping cough, is a highly contagious respiratory illness spread by coughing and sneezing. Infants are particularly vulnerable to whooping cough because they can’t be immunized before 4 to 6 weeks.
So far this year, 20 children younger than 1 have been hospitalized for whooping cough, according to state data. Last year, two babies in Washington died from the illness.
Washington has already recorded 1,132 cases of whooping cough this year – about 10 times more than the same time last year, according to disease investigators at the Department of Health. The state is recording more than 400 cases of pertussis each month – four times more than the threshold that state officials consider “epidemic” levels – and Washington is on pace for as many as 3,000 cases in 2012. Those are numbers that haven’t been seen in decades. (AP)