Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Irrational fears explain alarming return of whooping cough

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Harper Whitehead's life ended shortly after it began, and her aunt Dani believes her niece didn't have to die at all.

The one-month-old Alberta baby died in June at a children's hospital in Calgary from complications caused by pertussis, the formal name of whooping cough, a highly contagious bacterial disease that is causing rising concern across North America in the largest outbreak in 50 years.

The death was the first in Canada in this outbreak. Across southwestern Ontario, in British Columbia, Alberta and New Brunswick there have been about 1,800 reported cases his year, a tenth the number in the U.S., which has seen nine deaths.

All of this should rightly alarm us, but it should also spur adults -- especially parents of infants and newborns -- into taking action, specifically in making sure that they and their children are properly immunized. And a little soul-searching is also in order.

In Waterloo Region, 16 cases have been confirmed since the start of the year, but there may be 10 more that could be added to the tally. In contrast, there were only six last year, although this is an ailment that's cyclical and peaks and falls over the course of a decade. In 2006, for example, there were 45 cases in the region, and 25 the year after that. Across southwestern Ontario, in British Columbia, Alberta and New Brunswick there have been about 1,800 reported cases his year, a tenth the number in the U.S., which has seen nine deaths.

It's a sad commentary that vaccination has become a controversial subject, as the move toward the eradication or near eradication of deadly diseases through vaccines continues apace. Some adults refuse to have themselves and their children immunized out of a mistaken belief that there's a link between vaccination and autism. Others shun getting such things as flu shots because of unwarranted suspicions of Big Pharma -- the major pharmaceutical companies. But in doing so, they can place not only themselves but other family members and co-workers at risk.

It's concerning that there is a growing number of infants and toddlers who have not received all of their recommended vaccinations. But adults are missing out as well. All too aware of the shots they're required to take if they're travelling to an exotic locale, many adults are unaware that a booster shot to counter whooping cough is recommended for them as well -- and in particular parents of young children as well as daycare providers.

We have a larger role to play than we think in public health. And it can be a matter of life and death. Don't let irrational fears of vaccination stand in the way of the greater public good.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 4, 2012 A15

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