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Saturday, June 27, 2009

No Herd Immunity for Whooping Cough

Last May, the Washtenaw County Department of Public Health sent home a letter to parents in Dexter, after a Wylie Elementary School student had been diagnosed with pertussis or "whooping cough." A new study, published in the journal Pediatrics this month, shows that children whose parents had declined pertussis immunizations were at higher risk: of the hundreds of Colorado kids studied, those whose parents had decided against vaccination were 23 times more likely than vaccinated children to get the infection.  Pertussis is caused by a bacterium in the mouth, nose and throat; symptoms include low grade fever, runny nose, sneezing and cough—sometimes followed by a high pitched "whoop."  That cough makes it difficult to breathe, and it often persists for months.  Though mortality risk is low, infants are most likely to suffer, and the number of reported cases is on the rise: there have been over 10,000 a year in the US.  Pertussis is highly contagious, and remains one of the leading vaccine-preventable diseases world-wide.  Parents should consider the risks of any medical treatment, including vaccinations, for their children. And they should be aware of the benefits.
James Glanz et al, 2009, Pediatrics 123: 1446-1451.
Stephanie Skernivitz, 2009, Contemporary Pediatrics, May 27.