Vaccine exemptions on the rise and so are cases of whooping cough, Upstate study shows
Rates of religious exemptions from childhood vaccinations are on the rise, and so are cases of pertussis, or whooping cough, in New York state. According to a study released in Pediatrics, June 2013, nearly twice as many parents sought religious exemptions in 2011 than did in 2000, cases of whooping cough simultaneously rose. Doctors warn that not vaccinating a child can put not only that child, but also others around them at risk.
“The reason for rising rates for religious exemptions is unknown. Our preliminary results suggest that it’s not for religious reasons alone,” said senior author on the study, Jana Shaw, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics at Upstate Medical University and a pediatrician at Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital.
New York counties with exemption rates of 1 percent or more experienced higher rates of whooping cough in both unvaccinated and vaccinated children — 33 cases per 100,000 children on average compared to 20 cases per 100,000 in counties with lower exemption rates, the study found. Shaw notes that the statewide number is still low, but that some counties are up to as much as 5.58 percent.
Shaw notes that religious exemption is a sensitive issue because school officials are often not experts in religion and may not be comfortable discussing the issue with parents. Shaw also suspects that there are cases where parents use religious exemption to avoid vaccination because of other worries.
Whooping cough is a highly contagious, bacterial disease that attacks the respiratory system. It can cause serious illness in infants, children and adults. Initial symptoms mimic a common cold, but after 1-2 weeks, severe coughing can begin. The coughing may become violent and cause life-threatening pauses in breathing known as apneas.
To hear an interview with a pediatric infectious disease specialist on the rising rates of pertussis, visit HealthLink On Air.
Caption: Jana Shaw, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics at Upstate Medical University and a pediatrician at Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital, is senior author of the study.