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Idaho Skips Pertussis Epidemic Despite Infant Death

Adam Cotterell
Boise State Public Radio
Emily Simnitt is a spokewoman for Idaho's Department of Health and Welfare

Idaho has had its first death from pertussis in three years. An eastern Idaho infant died last week from the disease also known as whooping cough. But  Idaho is not experiencing the epidemic some of its neighbors are.

A month ago Washington State’s Secretary of Health Mary Selecky declared a statewide epidemic of pertussis. She told KUOW more than 600 cases had been confirmed and 20 people had been hospitalized.

“If this pace continues we’re on track to have the highest number of whooping cough cases in our state in decades,” Selecky said.

But the pace did continue. Washington State now has more than 1,100 confirmed cases, ten times as many as the year before. Idaho has had 31 cases this year, about the same as this time last year. Emily Simnitt with Idaho’s Department of Health and Welfare says they focus on encouraging vaccination.

“Our message hasn’t changed," she says.  "Because we have always known that it’s really important for people to be up to date on their immunizations.”

According to the CDC Idaho has one of the highest rates of parents refusing immunizations at nearly 4 percent. Washington State is highest with more than 6 percent. But Montana has high numbers of pertussis cases this year and it has better immunization rates than Idaho. Simnitt says even a few unvaccinated people increase the risk.

“It’s called herd immunity, that’s sort of the technical term for that, but, vaccines don’t protect communities unless almost everyone in that community is vaccinated against the disease.”

More than a third of Montana’s 100 cases this year are in one sparsely populated county.