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Children's Vaccines Health Center

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Whooping Cough Epidemic Hits California

6 Infant Deaths in California; South Carolina Also Sees Cases Rise

Whooping Cough: A Serious Disease continued...

"Pertussis is a horrible disease at any age, but most severe in the youngest infants," Blumberg said at a Monday news teleconference. "The reason is their airways are so small. When they get pertussis they cough, cough, cough, and keep coughing. The air goes out but nothing comes in, so they suffocate."

The California vaccination effort may yet head off the epidemic. As of July 17, there were about 1,500 reported cases in the state. But time may be running out. July, August, and September tend to be peak months for whooping cough.

Vaccine Refusal Driving Whooping Cough Epidemic?

There's indirect evidence that people who refuse to vaccinate their children may be playing a role in the whooping cough epidemic, suggested Gilberto Chavez, MD, chief of the California Department of Health's infectious disease center.

Chavez noted that most whooping cough cases tend to occur in areas where the most parents exempt their kids from routine vaccination -- a choice that California state law permits the parents of school children.

"We have noticed that to some degree [the epidemic pattern] matches counties where there is a higher percent of kids not immunized because of personal-belief exemptions [to school-required vaccination]," he said at the news conference.

For example, Marin County north of San Francisco has a relatively high rate of vaccine refusal. Marin County has the highest number of whooping cough cases, Chavez said.

That fits with a 2008 study that matched whooping cough outbreaks in Michigan with geographic pockets of families that exempted their children from school immunization requirements.

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