What caused a whooping cough epidemic? Scientists blame parents

TORONTO – What caused a whooping cough outbreak in California that left nearly 10,000 sick? In a new study, researchers are wagging their fingers at parents who refused to vaccinate their kids.

In 2010, a whooping cough epidemic swept through California where 9,120 cases of illness were reported and 10 people died. Researchers at Emory University say that it was one of the worst cases in the West Coast state since 1947.

And based on their findings, clusters of families that decided against vaccinating their kids were most likely to be affected by the outbreak.

“Not vaccinating your child is not a benign decision. It has real health consequences to the individual child and to the community,” study author Dr. Saad Omer, told Health Day. He’s an associate professor of global health, epidemiology and pediatrics.

Read more: Should flu shots be mandatory for health care workers?

Anti-vaccination movements are widespread across the United States and even in Canada. Some theories suggest there is a link between autism and vaccinating children. After Jenny McCarthy, a celebrity mom who openly opposes vaccination, joined the talkshow The View, Canada’s own Toronto Public Health urged the program to reconsider.

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It released its own set of “truths” about vaccines.

Read more: Toronto Public Health wants McCarthy off ‘The View’

In the study, Omer and his team took school data and whooping cough cases and geographically coded the information. About 40 clusters of regions had high exemption rates from vaccination.

Results showed that the risk of whooping cough was 20 per cent higher in regions that had more parents who decided to forgo vaccinating their kids.

Read more: Canadian researchers develop disease outbreak surveillance

Dr. Ellen Rome, a pediatrician at Cleveland Clinic, said she wasn’t surprised by the findings.

“When you have conscientious objectors to immunizations, the rates of those diseases go up in the community,” she said.

“Non-vaccinated (kids) who are exposed to whooping cough or pertussis are at risk of dying. If adults are non-vaccinated, we may just get a cold or a bad cough, but for kids that can be fatal.”

Researchers say that with diseases like measles and whooping cough, about 95 per cent of the population must be immunized to prevent outbreaks, the Cleveland Clinic says.

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Whooping cough is also known as pertussis. Kids with whooping cough could be dealing with a fever and coughing attacks that get worse, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

In the past year, whooping cough outbreaks have been reported across Canada from West Kootenay in British Columbia, to Toronto and New Brunswick.

The full study was published in the journal Pediatrics. Read the study here.

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