Washington state is gearing up for one of the worst epidemics of pertussis in nearly 70 years. Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is a highly contagious bacterial infection that causes a nasty cough. It is particularly dangerous for young infants.


Public health officials have confirmed more than 1,100 cases of whooping cough so far this year in the state. Thankfully, no deaths have been reported this year, but 20 infants have been hospitalized with the illness.  


Washington's Gov. Christine Gregoire announced May 3 that state emergency funds would be available to provide free vaccinations and help spread awareness about the disease and the importance of getting vaccinated.  


In the U.S., most kids receive a series of vaccines against whooping cough at the age of 2 months. But some kids don't get immunized, either because their parents object or they are unaware of the importance of vaccines.


Outbreaks of pertussis are not uncommon, but they do tend to run in cycles. Tim Church, a spokesman for the Washington state Health Department, said the current epidemic is running well above typical peak years in the past, when 500 to 600 cases might be reported in a year.


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Pertussis: Whooping cough outbreak strikes Washington state
More than 1,100 cases of whooping cough have already been diagnosed this year in the state, nearly doubling the number seen in typical peak years.