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Whooping Cough on the Rise in Several States

Seven infants in California have died so far this year from pertussis, a.k.a. whooping cough. The state's outbreak is the largest in decades; it has had a six-fold rise in the disease compared with last year. Arizona, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, upstate New York, Ohio, Oregon, Texas, South Caro...

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Seven infants in California have died so far this year from pertussis, a.k.a. whooping cough. The state's outbreak is the largest in decades; it has had a six-fold rise in the disease compared with last year. Arizona, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, upstate New York, Ohio, Oregon, Texas, South Carolina and Wisconsin have also reported recent rises in cases of the disease.



This is what happens when people stop vaccinating their children.



Before the development of the pertussis vaccine, about 5,000 people died from whooping cough every year in the United States. Vaccination brought that number down to about 30. But the disease has make several comebacks in the last decade, as more and more parents decide to skip vaccinations.



The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention call vaccination "the best defense against whooping cough." Unvaccinated children are 23 times more likely to get pertussis, according to a 2009 study in Pediatrics. Adults and teenagers who contract pertussis end up sick for up to a couple of months. Younger children may develop pneumonia or seizures. And infants under a year old, and particularly those under three months old, are at particular risk of becoming seriously ill; the seven who died in California this year were all less than two months old.



The first in the pertussis vaccine series isn't given until a child is two months old and it's not until a child is about six months old that immunity to the disease becomes well developed. Until then, they—and other children who cannot be vaccinated, such as those with cancer—depend on what's called "herd immunity," the principle that if enough people around them are vaccinated, they won't come in contact with the pertussis bacterium.



But parents who choose to skip vaccinating their own children because of unwarranted fears of autism are putting putting their own and other children at risk. More unvaccinated children leads to more carriers of the disease. Those carriers who can spread it to other families and other children, some of whom will—and have—died.



Please vaccinate your children. And get a booster shot for yourself as an adult. Vaccines have been an incredible success. It is truly frustrating to see that success undermined because of pseudoscience peddled by, most notably, a scientific fraud and a former playboy bunny:



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About Sarah Zielinski
Sarah Zielinski

Sarah Zielinski is an award-winning science writer and editor. She is a contributing writer in science for Smithsonian.com and blogs at Wild Things, which appears on Science News.

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