Whooping Cough Outbreak Spreading Across U.S.

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Whooping cough is on the rise across the country. Health officials say it's the result of a large number of parents choosing not to vaccinate their children. However, that's a choice that could put children's lives in danger.

California is ground zero in the growing whooping cough epidemic, with more than 6,700 cases this year and 10 infant deaths. The state also has the highest rate of immunization exemptions in the nation.

The disease is becoming a big problem in other states too.

In 2010, 44 cases of whooping cough -- also known as pertussis -- have now been confirmed in North Carolina. That's four times the number of cases last year.

One North Carolina pediatrician has seen at least four.

"It's the babies that really are at risk for dying from pertussis," Dr. Donna Page of Asheville Pediatrics said.

Page's practice is in Buncombe County, which leads the state in exemptions from the immunization for religious reasons. Health officials said such exemptions are causing the illness to spread.

"We know that most of the cases we have currently -- 80 percent of them are in unimmunized children and adults," said Dr. Cynthia Yancey, Buncome County medical director.

Doctors said immunization is the best protection. However, some parents fear the DTaP vaccine is unsafe or they prefer a natural immunization. Health officials said the science doesn't support those fears.

*Originallly published Nov. 19, 2010.

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