Outbreak of whooping cough on Whidbey worries physicians

Seven-month-old Logan Hensley, joined by his mom, gets his check-up by nurse Marlene Pangelinan at Pediatrics Associates of Whidbey Island. - Rebecca Olson/Whidbey News-Times
Seven-month-old Logan Hensley, joined by his mom, gets his check-up by nurse Marlene Pangelinan at Pediatrics Associates of Whidbey Island.
— image credit: Rebecca Olson/Whidbey News-Times

Cases of pertussis, also known as whooping cough, have appeared throughout Whidbey Island within the past week. Pertussis is highly contagious and debilitating for both children and adults.

“We’ve confirmed 11 cases in the county recently. Even more are expected to eventually show up,” said Health Officer Roger Case, MD.

Pertussis is a bacterial infection spread by coughing. The symptom of pertussis is a progressively worsening cough. There is no fever, but after a week, coughing fits may induce nausea and vomiting.

“It can start out acting like a common cold but then it gets worse, so look out for that,” said Freeland pediatrician Dr. Robert Wagner.

Pertussis is more obvious in children than in adults. Adults may have the disease and not be aware of it.

“If you have a cough that persists for two or three weeks, get it checked out,” Case said.

Contact a doctor immediately if experiencing these symptoms.

“This is one of the more contagious communicable diseases,” said Case.

If Pertussis spreads through unvaccinated individuals, it can create an epidemic in the community.

“People need to get their vaccines updated to limit the ability of the epidemic to spread. An epidemic can spread for months,” said Wagner.

Most people receive the vaccine for pertussis as a child but it wears off after 5 to 10 years. The tetanus vaccine includes pertussis, so every adult should keep that vaccine current. If an unvaccinated individual contracts pertussis, the illness may last for months. The Health Department and doctors or healthcare providers can provide vaccination.

“It’s hard to make this vaccine work perfectly. The vaccine works 75 to 80 percent of the time, but it’s good enough to keep an epidemic under control,” said Wagner.

Preventative antibiotics can be taken by anyone living in close contact with or in the same childcare classroom as infected individuals.

Those infected with pertussis should take the full course of antibiotic treatment and avoid contact with others until they are no longer contagious.

“We’re just starting to see an outbreak so we want to get the information out there early enough to prevent an epidemic,” Wagner said.

Heath Department staff members are examining recent pertussis cases and following up on potentially exposed individuals, according to Case.

All cases of pertussis should be reported to the Health Department at 679-7350. For more information on pertussis and the vaccine, visit

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