May 15 2012
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Whooping Cough and Budgets Cuts: Recommended Reading

What do budget cuts have to do with a recent outbreak of pertussis (whooping cough) in Washington State? Possibly quite a bit, according to a recent article in the New York Times. The state has seen 1,284 cases through early May—the most in at least three decades and 10 times last year’s total by this time of year (128).

The article finds that recent state and local funding cuts have impacted the outbreak in several ways:

  • In Skagit County, the hardest-hit section of the state based on pertussis cases per capita, the local Public Health Department has half the staff it did in 2008 and most preventive care programs have been shuttered.
  • The county’s chief medical officer has told physicians and hospitals to stop testing for pertussis, a $400 test, in order to save money. Instead, health officials are encouraged to use a person’s symptoms plus contact with an infected person as a basis for treatment—which could result in many cases going unreported. The decision was made in part because about fifteen percent of the county’s residents have no health insurance.
  • At least one school district has lost nurses over the past four years, impacting testing and reporting.

Read the article here [subscription may be required].

Tags: Infectious disease, Public Health Departments