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California whooping cough epidemic (and deaths) revives autism vs. vaccine debate

California whooping cough epidemic is reviving autism vs. vaccine debate

Studies can continue to state that there is no provable link between childhood vaccines and autism, and doctors like Andrew Wakefield can be stripped of medical licenses for promoting such theories, but there are many parents who still fear vaccines.

And that thinking is proving to be a great concern around the country, as whooping cough is declared an epidemic in California, where five babies have already died (all Latino infants under 3 months old.) And the worst whooping cough season, July and August, is still ahead of us.

Whooping cough, or pertussis, is one of those diseases that we haven't heard about for decades, after its near eradication in the 1970s. Babies are given the DTap (diptheria, tetanus and pertussis) vaccine several times, starting at 2 months, and it is often repeated at 15-18 months and then 4-6 years old. 

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Some wonder if the current rise of pertussis is because so many parents are opting out of vaccines or its just a worldwide spread of new bacteria. In either case, the potentially dangerous illness is making a comeback.

Whooping cough is highly infectious and one cough from an infected child could cause another in close proximity to catch it. I starts out like the common cold and turns into a persistent cough, often with a distinctive "whooping" sound. It is easy to spread, and like the California wildfires, not that easy to contain.

Health officials are encouraging vaccines, but with all the media attention to anti-vaccine parents of autistic children, parents of typical children are now holding back as well. To some parents, the threat of autism far outweighs the threat of whooping cough.

Studies continuously report that there is no link between vaccines and autism, but even scientific studies pale when they are up against considerable and emotional anecdotal connections between the two. Studies aside, there is a large segment of parents of children on the autism spectrum who say you can't completely dismiss the possibility of a vaccine affecting a compromised child, especially when the source of the compromise might not even be known. They believe that there is, at least, a connective coincidence if nothing else, between developmental disorders and vaccines. To them, the jury is out, and during that jury break, they will err on the side of caution, and stay away from vaccines altogether.

Antibiotics can help fight whooping cough, but the further into the course of the disease they are taken, the less effective they are. Officials are concerned because whooping cough can be very serious and infants and young children are most at risk. While many parents are afraid of autism and other developmental risks from the vaccine, the fact is that whooping cough, can cause some of those very problems, and even be fatal. Medical experts are strongly encouraging parents to have their children vaccinated.

For some parents that's a call to exchange one epidemic for another.

Alphabet Kids: A Guide to Developmental, Neurobiological and Psychological Disorders for Parents and Professionals: http://www.tinyurl.com/alphabet-kids

Robbie Woliver is a journalist and editor. He is the author of the book Alphabet Kids.

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