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From Staff Reporter Mary Jean Spadafora:

The Washington State Department of Health today announced a dramatic increase in reported cases of pertussis, or whooping cough.

So far this year in the state, 640 cases have been recorded, well over the 94 reported by this time last year.  Health Secretary Mary Selecky said the disease has reached epidemic levels in the state.

At a morning news conference, Selecky said she wants all teens and adults to get vaccinated to help protect babies too young for the vaccine.

Pertussis is a contagious bacterial infection that causes a severe, long-lasting cough. For adults, pertussis can manifest as a mild cold with occasional coughing; for young children, especially infants, it can be severe and life threatening.

The health department plans to work with health-care providers to encourage their patients to get vaccinated.