Wash. state declares whooping cough epidemic

The Washington State Health Department has declared its large increase in cases of whooping cough, also known as pertussis, as an epidemic.

In 2012, there have been 640 cases of the disease in the state, compared to 94 during the same time period last year. The state is on pace to have its largest number of whooping cough cases in decades, KNDO reports.

The state health department urged people to protect themselves from getting the contagious disease and spreading it, particularly to infants, by getting vaccinated. Children should get vaccinated against whooping cough by age seven.

The past two years has seen dozens of Washington babies hospitalized with whooping cough, including four deaths. While people of all ages can get whooping cough, adults have lesser symptoms and may not realize that a nagging cough is a result of an infection with the disease.

Maxine Hayes, the Washington state health officer, said that most cases of whooping cough go unreported and that the department is just as concerned about such infections.

"The hospitalizations and the deaths are the tip of the iceberg," Hayes said, according to KNDO. "There are so many individually that are infected that don't ever get hospitalized and we don't even know how many people those are."

According to estimates, only 10 to 12 percent of whooping cough cases are reported. There have been 42 infants infected with the disease so far this year. Children under the age of 18 can receive the vaccination for free in Washington state.