Whooping cough epidemic leads to warning from health officials

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PHOENIX-- Because of whooping cough, health officials are calling for a mass vaccination of adults across Arizona.

The Arizona Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AzAAP) says this latest statistic underscores its call for critical vaccinations among adults and children. 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the best way to protect children is
to vaccinate the adults around them, and to vaccinate pregnant women so their babies are
born with some immunity.  

In Arizona, one baby has died this year and more than 350 cases of pertussis have been reported.
The infant was too young to be vaccinated and more than likely contracted the disease from an adult, according to Maricopa County health officials.

"The vaccines we have today are the most effective means ever known to man for preventing the outbreak of infectious diseases," said Dr. Dale Guthrie, AzAAP board president.  "Unfortunately, the full immunization rate in Arizona stands at approximately 76 percent, far below the 92 percent rate needed to fully prevent an outbreak."

According to Maricopa County, nearly 700 cases of whooping cough were reported in 2011, including those involving dozens of infants.  his is a 41-percent increase over the previous year and over double the number of cases reported in 2009.

AzAAP stresses that adults need the whooping cough shot because immunity from their childhood shots wears off with time. The adult form of the pertussis vaccine includes tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis.

"By reaching a high enough vaccine rate in the community and obtaining immunity, many deaths can be prevented and the rate of contracting the disease can be lowered," explained Dr. Amy Shoptaugh, a Tempe pediatrician and AzAAP board member.

Shoptaugh is co-chair of the chapter's Pediatric Council, which has been leading a statewide effort for the last five years to educate the public, insurance companies, fellow pediatricians, and the Arizona Legislature about the importance of immunizations.

Shoptaugh recommends that babies receive doses of the vaccine beginning at age 2 months, followed by doses at 4 and 6 months. AzAAP notes that outbreaks of childhood infectious diseases can pose serious public-health threats and cost the public hundreds of thousands of dollars or more -- per incident. 

The likelihood of such incidents, however, can be dramatically reduced with the combination of quality pediatric health care and sound public policy.

One study showed that those parents who refused vaccines had a 23-fold higher risk for contracting whooping cough when compared with those receiving vaccinations.