Growing outbreaks of whooping cough raise health fears

Posted: July 28, 2010 in Uncategorized
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Growing outbreaks of whooping cough — including a California epidemic that has killed six babies — are worrying public health officials who fear that sporadic vaccination practices may be contributing to dangerous cases of the preventable disease.

“I’m saddened, but I can’t truly say I’m surprised,” said Dr. Saad B. Omer, an assistant professor with Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health and an national expert on immunization practices. “We know and we have known for a while that we have these gaps in protection at the local level.”

Rising cases of the disease also known as pertussis have been reported in Idaho, Texas, South Carolina, Michigan and in California, where 1,500 children have been diagnosed in what’s being called the worst outbreak in 50 years.

In some places, including Michigan and California, there are communities where parents have refused recommended vaccinations, often because they fear complications from the shots.

‘Herd immunity’ breached
When that happens, vaccine resisters breach what’s known as “herd immunity,” the necessary level of protection that keeps disease from spreading. That allows infection to infect vulnerable people, including those for whom a vaccine doesn’t work or wears off, and babies too young to be immunized.

There’s some evidence that being under-vaccinated or not vaccinated at all is contributing to a portion of the cases in the California outbreak and others, said Dr. Tom Clark, a medical epidemiologist with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He declined to say what proportion of the ill children in California were not fully vaccinated.

In other cases, the illness is showing up in children ages 7 to 10, kids whose older vaccinations may be waning, but who have not yet received recommended doses for adolescents

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