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Whooping cough makes a return call

The whoop is back.

Last summer, people on Whidbey Island were forced to take precautions when several cases of whooping cough occurred during a Little League baseball tournament in Oak Harbor.

Once again the disease, also known as pertussis, has reared its ugly head — this time at the state championship wrestling tournament in Tacoma.

State and local health officials investigating the incident.

Health officials report at least 15 people with whooping cough attended the 2009 Mat Classic at the Tacoma Dome Feb. 20-21. The cases reported were among wrestlers, coaching staff and spectators, and health officials stated they are expecting more cases of the disease to be reported in the coming weeks.

People from all over the state, Oak Harbor included, attended the championships and officials from the Washington Interscholastic Athletic Association estimated attendance at the two-day event at 30,000 people.

The whooping cough cases associated with the tournament were from Kittitas and Pacific Counties.

The state Department of Health is working with local health agencies, school nurses and the WIAA to notify attendees that they may have been exposed to whooping cough and what precautions and treatment need to be taken.

Pertussis is common in Washington state and over the past decade, an average 600 cases have been reported each year.

The disease is highly contagious and spreads easily through coughing and sneezing. Initial symptoms are similar to the common cold, including sneezing, runny nose, a low-grade fever and a mild cough.

Within two weeks, the cough may become severe and can develop into coughing spells followed by a high-pitched whoop. An infected person can spread the disease from the beginning of the cold-like symptoms to three weeks after the coughing episodes start.

Antibiotics are the best way to reduce the contagious period.

Anyone who attended the wrestling tournament and now has cold symptoms and a cough, or was in close contact with someone who had whooping cough, should contact a health care provider. You may be asked to wear a mask in the doctor’s office to help prevent spreading the disease. People who have or may have pertussis should stay away from babies, young children and pregnant women until treated.

The best way to prevent pertussis is to be properly vaccinated.

Whooping cough vaccines are recommended for children and adults. Teens and adults often get a milder form of whooping cough, but can spread the disease to babies and young children who may not be fully protected, and are at greater risk of serious complications.

Children should get five vaccinations between two months of age and when they start school. A whooping cough booster shot is now available from local health departments and recommended for people between the ages of 11 and 64.

For information whooping cough visit www.doh.wa.gov/LHJMap, or the Department of Health’s Immunization Program at www.doh.wa.gov/cfh/Immunize/default.

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