Whooping cough has reached an epidemic level in Snohomish County after 2011 saw a nearly ninefold increase in cases compared to the year before, health officials tell The Everett Herald.

Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is now epidemic in our community, said Dr. Gary Goldbaum with Snohomish County Health District.

220 cases were reported in the county in 2011, compared to 25 cases in 2010. Out of those 220 cases, eight infants were hospitalized with the disease. A 27-day-old Lake Stevens infant died from pertussis in August.

Snohomish County now ranks among the highest statewide in whooping cough cases, making up for nearly a third of all cases last year.

Clusters of whopping cough cases were reported throughout Snohomish County. In November and December, whooping cough cases were reported in Arlington, Monroe, Marysville, Darrington, Granite Falls, Stanwood and Lake Stevens.

While whooping cough can be a nuisance for adults, young children - especially those younger than two months who haven't had their first dose of vaccine - are at high risk.

They have no immunity, said Goldbaum.

The disease can cause a number of problems for infants, including pneumonia, seizures and troubles with breathing.

Health officials are urging adults, particularly those who have contact with infants, to be immunized against pertussis.

They also urge parents to make sure their children are up to date on their pertussis immunizations. A series of five shots is recommended, beginning at two months old.

The Snohomish Health District plans to hold a special one-day event, tentatively scheduled for early February, to provide about 430 free doses of the vaccine to women in the third trimester of pregnancy and adults in close contact with infants, especially those without health insurance.

While Washington state health officials were still calculating the numbers, there were at least 782 cases of pertussis reported in Washington last year. Large numbers of whooping cough cases also were also reported in five other counties: Whatcom, San Juan, Island, Grant and Cowlitz.

To read more go to The Everett Herald.

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