With Washington's whooping cough epidemic showing no signs of slowing, veterans advocates in the region are trying to make it easier for veterans to get immunized.
The Jonathan M. Wainwright Memorial VA Medical Center in Walla Walla is offering three upcoming free whooping cough vaccination clinics for veterans.
The first is from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday in Room 220 of the Richland Federal Building, followed by a vaccination clinic at the Walla Walla Armory, 113 S. Colville St., from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. July 13.
A third free vaccination clinic will be offered from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Aug. 9 as part of a stand down event at WorkSource in Kennewick that also will include information about jobs, benefits and organizations supporting veterans.
The clinics will offer veterans the Tdap vaccine, which inoculates against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis. Immunizations will be given to veterans only and not spouses or family members.
Bonny Weed, infection control nurse for the Walla Walla VA, said the goal is to raise awareness among veterans that getting immunized helps protect their families.
"I think we're really wanting to get the word out that an adult would go in and receive this vaccine primarily for the benefit of any children, grandchildren, infants or toddlers that are part of their lives," Weed told the Herald. "Pertussis really strikes infants very severely. This is just one of those campaigns where you go in and volunteer to do something for the benefit of the child and for yourself."
And even though adults may have gotten all of their required booster shots as children or adolescents, the immunity from those shots wanes over time. So many health officials recommend that adults get a booster now if they haven't already.
Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is a highly contagious respiratory illness caused by Bordatella pertussis bacteria, and has symptoms similar to a nasty cold -- sneezing, runny nose, fever and cough.
It's the cough that makes pertussis distinctive. Children tend to make a whooping sound with a pertussis cough because they're struggling to catch their breath, according to a state health department fact sheet.
But the whooping is less prevalent in adults and teenagers, who may just have a prolonged cough that persists for weeks or even a couple of months.
Complications for infants include pneumonia, ear infection, loss of appetite, brain disorders or death.
Adults and teenagers may develop pneumonia or experience problems sleeping, urine leakage or broken ribs from severe coughing.
The disease has reached epidemic proportions in Washington this year, with 2,520 cases reported statewide through June 16, compared to 179 by the same time last year, the Department of Health reported Tuesday.
About 81 percent of cases have been in children and teens ages 18 and under. About 6 percent were in children less than a year old; 11 percent in children 1 to 4; 20 percent ages 5 to 9; 25 percent ages 10 to 13; and 19 percent in teens ages 14 to 18, according to health department data.
The most severe outbreak has been in Skagit County, with a whopping incidence rate of 406.5 cases per 100,000 population. The state average is 37.4.
Other hot spots include Whatcom County, with a rate of 94.6 cases per 100,000; Lewis County, with 66.1 per 100,000, Kittitas County, with 61.7 per 100,000; and Cowlitz County, with 58 per 100,000.
Counties in the Mid-Columbia are seeing fewer cases on average than the rest of the state.
Benton County has had a total of 32 cases, or an average of 18.5 per 100,000, since Jan. 1, while Franklin County has seen 25 cases, for a rate of 33.1 per 100,000.
"Our rates are being fairly steady. We haven't seen an increase in rates of cases, but we still are seeing cases coming in every week," said Dr. Amy Person, health officer for the Benton Franklin Health District.
The numbers of pertussis cases are higher in the two counties than this time last year, but so is the number of vaccine doses given.
Person said the number of doses administered this year is 233 percent higher than this time last year.
"I'm happy to see people are listening about the importance of getting immunized," Person said.