The Iowa Department of Public Health is still adding up the numbers for 2010, but the agency’s medical director says it’s clear the state experienced a big outbreak of pertussis, otherwise known as whooping cough.

Dr. Patricia Quinlisk says the whooping cough vaccine is required for children going into kindergarten, so the illness is mostly being spread by adults who’ve failed to boost their immunity.

“A lot of us got the immunizations when we were children, but this is one of those vaccines that wanes over about a 10 year period and you need to get a booster,” Quinlisk said. The pertussis vaccine was added to the tetanus booster several years ago. Quinlisk is asking Iowans to make they’re up to date on their booster shots to curb the spread of whooping cough.

“The people who are most vulnerable to (whooping cough) are little kids. Infants and children up to one or two years of age haven’t had enough to time to get all the vaccines they need,” Quinlisk said. Many adults can have whooping cough and not even know it, but it’s especially dangerous for infants.

“We’ve had babies die of (pertussis) here in Iowa,” Quinlisk said. “We need to cocoon those babies by making sure that every adult who comes near an infant is fully vaccinated.” Whooping cough in Iowa spiked in 2004-05, with over 1,000 confirmed cases. In recent years, the numbers have dropped below 200 a year.

But, Quinlisk expects the numbers rose in 2010 and could go even higher this year.