Traverse City Record-Eagle

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August 11, 2012

Another View: Immunizations can stop spread

A recent outbreak of whooping cough in Calhoun County is cause for vigilance, but no reason for panic. The remedy is right at hand: vaccination.

The county Public Health Department on Monday reported that in the past two weeks eight people have contracted whooping cough, which doctors call pertussis, compared to five in all of 2011.

The local announcement follows a national trend that has some health officials predicting that the United States may see its worst whooping-cough outbreak in more than 50 years. ...

This is serious, but more to the point, it is preventable.

Whooping cough is a highly contagious bacterial infection that causes an uncontrollable, violent cough lasting several weeks or even months. Symptoms initially are mild and resemble those of a common cold — sneezing, runny nose, fever — and then develop into severe coughing fits.

These coughing fits produce the namesake high-pitched "whoop" sound in infected babies and children when they inhale air after coughing. People with weakened immune systems, or children under one year of age too young to be fully immunized against pertussis, are most at risk.

Ample evidence points to a combination of complacency and fear for the rise in whooping cough cases. People forget that before the vaccination was developed in the 1940s, whooping cough was a common disease, causing as many as 5,000 deaths per year.

Misplaced fears about the dangers of the vaccine have contributed to a reduced rate of vaccination.

Researchers suspect that a switch from one vaccine to another 15 years ago, a change based in part on now-discredited concerns about the dangers of the older vaccine, may contribute to increased rates of infection. Health officials see some evidence that its effectiveness may wane more quickly than the previous form, contributing to a rise in whooping cough cases among children ages 10 to 14.

That's why the federal Centers for Disease Control is considering revising the recommended age for booster shots from 11 to as early as 8 or 9.

We think that's a good call.

Anybody who comes into contact with young children or people with weak immune systems should get vaccinated, and it's not a bad idea even for people who don't come into contact with at-risk populations.

The more people who are vaccinated against whooping cough, the less chance the disease will spread.

We've heard a lot of debate about vaccines in recent years, but the scientific evidence still indicates the benefits to public health of immunizations far outweigh the risks involved.

Battle Creek Enquirer

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