MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — The Vermont Health Department is urging adults to get a new vaccine for whooping cough and offering free vaccine clinics next week to prevent the spread of the contagious disease to children — the most vulnerable — as the state deals with an outbreak of the illness.
As of last week, 522 Vermonters — a majority of them children ages 10-14 — had been infected with whooping cough or pertussis this year. That’s 10 times the amount reported this time last year, said Health Commissioner Dr. Harry Chen.
‘‘These are epidemic numbers for our small state,’’ said Chen, who said more cases of the disease are being reported daily from every county.
Vermont is not alone. Other states are seeing big numbers, he said.
A major concern is that 23 babies under age 1who are too young to be fully protected by the vaccine and at the greatest risk of death from the disease have been infected in Vermont this year, Chen said. Six infants were hospitalized, he said.
‘‘Despite our best collective efforts, whooping cough is spreading throughout the state. That’s because it’s a highly contagious bacterial infection that’s easily spread from person to person from simple things like coughing, sneezing and even talking to one another,’’ Chen said.
In early stages, whooping cough has symptoms like a common cold. The infection develops into a severe cough or coughing fit, often followed by a whoop sound.
The vaccine that children get is not perfect, officials said. It wears off. All of the children who were infected had been vaccinated, said state Epidemiologist Patsy Kelso. But by being vaccinated, they won’t get as sick and are less contagious, she said.
The state recommends that 11-year-olds get a Tdap vaccine booster for tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis if they have not done so already. The same is recommended for adults over age 19. The vaccine became available in Vermont in 2006.
For adults, the state will hold free vaccine clinics from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. next Wednesday at its 12 local district offices for those who cannot get to their doctor to get a shot. The state has ordered 3,500 vaccines costing $70,000 for the clinics.
‘‘We haven’t been able to stop whooping cough in Vermont this year so now we need everyone to step up and do their part to protect themselves and other Vermonters, especially the very young,’’ Chen said.