Whooping Cough is Back — and We’re to Blame

A new study in the medical journal Pediatrics shows that children who don’t receive the regular schedule of childhood vaccines are more likely to get whooping cough than their immunized peers — a whopping 23 times more likely.

The researchers reviewed the medical records of children from 2 months to 18 years in Colorado Kaiser Permanente from 1996 to 2007 and found 156 cases of confirmed whooping cough. These children were then compared with a control group and results indicate a greatly increased risk of the disease in the kids who didn’t receive the vaccine. The reason for not immunizing? In this case it was 100% by parental choice.

Whooping cough (pertussis is the medical name, and that of the vaccine that prevents it) is caused by a bacteria called bordetella pertussis and may infect children and adults of any age, but it is most dangerous in 1 – 5 year olds. At first the illness looks like your average cold with runny nose and a mild fever, but it quickly progresses to violent coughing spells with that characteristic ‘whooping’ sound. The spells make it hard for a child to eat, drink, or even breathe. It can be treated with antibiotics, which may help to shorten the course and decrease spread to others, but they are not entirely effective.

Approximately 9 children per year die from whooping cough in the U.S. and that number is rising. Clearly we’re not doing a good enough job explaining the benefits of childhood vaccines to parents, but if you’ve ever seen a toddler hospitalized and seriously ill with whooping cough, you’ll never doubt it again.

So next time you question the value of immunization, or talk to another mom who does, think about this study and think again.

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Ellen and Rachel are two old friends and “expert” mamas—one a pediatrician and one a family therapist—with fifty years of parenting experience between them.

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