As head wrestling coach at Kittitas Secondary School, Lance Hyatt is used to seeing his wrestlers take on tough opponents. But even Hyatt, a savvy, seasoned coach with a knack for turning dedicated athletes into quality competitors, didn't anticipate the foe his team and other members of the community would face in 2009.
What would transpire would put a dramatic exclamation mark on the need for preventive medicine.
Flash back to Presidents Day weekend and the 2009 Mat Classic, the state wrestling championships at the Tacoma Dome. Kittitas has routinely finished second or third in its division in recent years and the dome has become a familiar place for Kittitas wrestlers and their fans. That weekend they were among an estimated 30,000 people attending the event.
A week or so later, Hyatt got an unexpected call.
The voice at the other end was Kittitas County health officer Dr. Mark Larson, a physician with KVH Family Medicine - Ellensburg. Larson also happens to be the Hyatt family physician.
His news was worrisome: An outbreak of whooping cough (pertussis) appeared to be linked to the state wrestling tournament. The state Health Department reported that at least 15 people with whooping cough attended the Mat Classic.
Marked by mild cold like symptoms at the outset - runny nose, low grade fever, coughing and sneezing - whooping cough can develop into severe coughing spells. It's easily spread by sneezing and coughing, highly contagious and potentially deadly - especially for infants. (Two babies in Washington State died of the disease in 2010. Two more died in 2011.) Pregnant women and young children also are particularly vulnerable.
"Oh great, that doesn't sound good," Hyatt remembers thinking. "But to be honest with you," he says now, "my immediate reaction was to be glad we had a guy like that heading things up who doesn't hesitate to pick up the phone and immediately go to a person."
Larson told Hyatt that anyone who attended the event and developed symptoms should seek medical attention. Local officials moved aggressively to stem the outbreak. The Kittitas County Health Department administered immunizations at the school. School activities, including field trips and activities involving other schools, were postponed. Hyatt says because he and his wife both had cold like symptoms they received antibiotics as a precaution.
By mid-March of 2009, 21 of 24 cases confirmed in Kittitas County involved students or staff at Kittitas Secondary School. In all, there were 26 whooping cough cases in Kittitas County that year and 1,026 cases confirmed statewide.
If there is an upside to what happened in 2009, "the whooping cough outbreak really heightened awareness and concern about being up-to-date on all vaccines - and I don't think that's a bad thing," Hyatt says.
He's right - and the need for up-to-date vaccinations for whooping cough and other preventable illnesses remains as urgent as ever. As of late August, the state already has 3,800 confirmed cases of pertussis this year, up from 363 in 2011. In Kittitas County, the number of confirmed pertussis cases in 2012 was 15 with an additional 19 "probable" cases. Health officials say both children and adults should be immunized against whooping cough.
For information on vaccinations for pertussis and other preventable diseases, contact the Kittitas County Health Department or your personal medical provider.