The Washington and Oregon State Departments of Health have issued an alert to all pregnant women to get immunized against pertussis.

Pertussis, or whooping cough, has seen its numbers skyrocket in the Pacific Northwest -- cases in Washington last year reached epidemic levels.

Health officials say that while pertussis is not severe to healthy adults, it can be very harmful to small children, elderly persons, and those in poor health. The reason for the immunization alert is because it's very dangerous for unborn babies or infants.

According to news from the Washington and Oregon State Health Departments:

"The disease in adults is usually mild--in fact so mild that it is often not recognized," said Duncan Neilson, M.D. and VP of Surgical Specialties at Legacy Health. "Unfortunately, newborns are very sensitive to this disease which can be quite severe and even fatal." (bold lettering added for emphasis).

Officials say they are now finding most of the whooping cough vaccines that were given 20-30 years ago did not produce the life-long immunity hoped for when they were produced. That explains why over the last 18-24 months, we have seen a sharp increase in pertussis cases.

Women who are pregnant, or may be come pregnant are urged to contact their health care provider, and if possible, provide their own immunization records to their health care provider.