BRATTLEBORO -- The number of confirmed cases of whooping cough in Windham County, and across Vermont, has plummeted, and public health officials are crediting a statewide public information effort to increase vaccination rates for halting what the department called an epidemic last year.
There has been only one confirmed case of whooping cough, or pertussis, in Windham County in 2013, and across Vermont 42 cases have been confirmed since the beginning of the year.
During the same period last year there were 89 cases reported in Vermont, and in Windham County, during the entire year, seven cases were reported.
The most recent report, which was released by the Vermont Department of Health Tuesday, shows a steep drop in the number of cases after the health department announced late last year that the state was facing a sharp rise in reports of whooping cough.
When the number of confirmed cases rose in December the Department of Health offered free whooping cough vaccine on Dec. 19 at 12 different department district offices.
At the Brattleboro clinic, 226 doses were administered during the free clinic, and across the state 3,269 people received the vaccine.
Hundreds of others were vaccinated at private clinics following a public information campaign in December and Health Commissioner Harry Chen says the most recent data show that the disturbing rise in reported cases seems to have slowed.
"We can't declare the end of this outbreak, but we're thankful that Vermonters responded as they did to slow the spread of illness," Chen said Tuesday. "Cases spiked at the end of the year and have steadily decreased since. This is good proof that our vaccination and information efforts are working."
Pertussis is a highly infectious bacterial respiratory disease that is easily spread from person to person by coughing, sneezing or even talking with others.
Whooping cough infection is often difficult to recognize early on, and a severe case can last for weeks.
It can be very serious for babies and children who come down with the cough, and most infants who get the disease must be hospitalized.
The incidence rate is highest among infants, while children aged 7 to 10 show the next highest rate.
In 2012 a record 645 cases of pertussis were reported in Vermont compared with only 94 in 2011.
Increased pertussis outbreaks were reported in a majority of states last year, according to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Vermont had the second highest report of incidence compared with the national incidence rate in 2012. The national average was 13.4 reports per 100,000 persons, while Vermont showed a rate of 100.6 in 2012.
The CDC recommends that everyone age 11 and older get a Tdap shot, and that women get the vaccine with each pregnancy.
Babies need doses at two months, four months, six months, 15 to 18 months and at four to six years, the CDC says.
"The vaccine is not perfect, its effectiveness wanes over time," said State Epidemiologist Patsy Kelso. "This makes it all the more important for everyone who can be vaccinated to do so, both to protect yourself and to protect those who are too young or have medical conditions that prevent them from being vaccinated."
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at email@example.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 279. You can follow him on Twitter @HowardReformer.