Health experts issue warning on deadly whooping cough threat

SEATTLE - Whooping cough was an epidemic last year in Washington state as thousands of cases were reported.

Now a local campaign is expanding to help pregnant woman and parents protect their children from the serious disease, which can be fatal for infants and young children.

The disease is every new parent's fear. And it's it's one that came true for little Natalie's mom, Michelle Razore.

"Little did I know that 2 1/2 weeks after she was born she came down with it," says Michelle. "I just knew in my heart - I was like, 'I know this is whooping cough.'"

"We were diagnosed with whooping cough, and for two weeks we watched her turn blue, her heart rate plummetted - she just couldn't catch her breath. It was awful," Michelle remembers.

Doctor's say the battle with whooping cough nearly took little Natalie's life.

Whooping cough affects the lungs and respiratory system, and it spreads easily by coughing and sneezing. It's especially serious for infants and young children. In some cases it can lead to pneumonia, seizures, brain damage - even death.

"It used to be common in America, and we got rid of it. And we thought it went away - but it didn't," says Dr. Jane Dimer of Group Health Hospital.

Health experts say vaccinations are key.

The Group Health Foundation in partnership with Public Health-Seattle & King County and the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department is expanding the Silence Whooping Cough campaign to educate pregnant women and parents about the risks of whooping cough.

The program also offers free immunization clinics for uninsured and underinsured adults every Saturday in September.

Doctors suggest parents take advantage of the clinic, which offers vaccines for both kids and adults.

Dimer recommends the vaccine for parents and caregivers - "anyone that would smooch a baby," she says.

The goal is to avoid having hospitals packed with newborns come January.

"Anyone that's going to be around their child or baby - caregivers, grandparents, aunts, uncles - everyone. Make sure they're vaccinated," says Dimer.

Michelle says she's grateful her little girl won the battle, and she hopes others can learn from their experience.

"I never thought in a million years it would happen to me - and it did," she says.

The next clinics will take place at Group Health Rainer, 5316 Rainier Ave. S., on Sept. 21, and again at Sea Mar Community Health Center downtown on Sept. 28. All clinics are open from 9 a.m. to noon.