Washington state facing higher whooping cough numbers than 2011

State health officials recently reported that cases of whooping cough, or pertussis, are on the rise in Washington.

Washington's public health officials said that there have been almost six times as many whooping cough cases in the first 11 weeks of 2012 as there were in the same time period in 2011, according to

There have 463 reported whooping cough cases through March 17, compared with 82 last year.

Dr. Amy Person, the health officer for Benton and Franklin counties, said that most of the cases seen in her area have been in school children, or those regularly around them.

Person said that many adults remain unaware that the pertussis vaccine they were administered as a child wears off over time and that having had the illness itself provides no immunity.

"We want to make sure adults and children over 10 are getting their boosters," Person said, reports.

The Pasco School District recently sent letters to parents explaining the symptoms of whooping cough, offering tips for helping prevent the illness.

Michele Roberts, the health promotion and communications section manager for the state's child immunization program, said that the vaccine is only about 80 to 85 percent effective, meaning prevention tips are needed and that some of those who have had the vaccine could still become infected.

"Pertussis is not all about seeing disease in unvaccinated people," Roberts said, reports. "Also, reported cases are only the tip of the iceberg. Many cases in teens and adults don't get reported because they don't seek medical attention, or their symptoms are so mild that providers don't suspect pertussis. The bottom line is that anyone with an ongoing cough should stay away from infants. And we need to increase awareness in adults that everyone should get a whooping cough booster."