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Whooping cough concerns: Are your kids vaccinated?

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We're seeing more cases of whooping cough across New York and state health officials are urging parents to get their children vaccinated.

It was too late for yet another infant in California, who recently died from the infection, also known as pertussis. That brings the total number of deaths this year to 10 in California alone. It comes amid the worst outbreak there in 60 years, according to health officials.

Since the beginning of the year, there have been nearly 6,000 confirmed, probably and suspected cases in California. All the deaths involve infants under 3-months-old. Nine were younger than 8-weeks-old and were too young to be vaccinated.

Here in New York, there have been about 479 cases of pertussis reported this year. Compare that to just 231 cases during that time period last year. The disease peaked 2004 with nearly 2,000 cases reported statewide. There have been no deaths reported in New York this year. There was one death of an infant in 2009.

Locally, Oswego County health officials tells CNY Central they've had 7 cases of whooping cough this year compared to none last year. Oneida County has had 12 cases this year, the same number as in 2009. Jefferson County has had only one case this year and none last year.

What is whooping cough? It's a highly contagious bacterial infection and can be especially serious in infants under 1-year-old. It begins as a mild upper respiratory infection. Initially, symptoms resemble those of a common cold, including sneezing, runny nose, low-grade fever and a mild cough. Within weeks, it causes uncontrollable, violent coughing fits and may be followed by a whooping sound which can last for several weeks or months.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were more than 200,000 cases of pertussis each year in the 1940's before the vaccine came out. It was a major cause of childhood death in the 20th century. Since the vaccine was introduced, we've seen 80% fewer cases.

Whooping cough is preventable thanks to that vaccine. But not everyone is protected. Some may have lost their immunity because the shot they got as a child has worn off. Some parents decide not to vaccinate their children because of fears that vaccines are linked to autism. There has been no scientific evidence to prove that. Click here to read more about what the CDC says about autism and vaccines.

There are some pediatricians who refuse to accept patients who don't get vaccinated. It's sparked a great deal of debate across the country. We found some evidence of that in online comments.

One reader writes, "To those who won't vaccinate, tell me this: What is your solution if everyone follows your advice and these diseases make a resurgence?"

Another says, "Why don't you work in a NICU and see all of the infants that come that have been paralyzed from vaccines. I'm sure you would not give your baby a full vaccination dose after you see what they can do."

It's a debate that will likely linger until doctors and researchers can pinpoint exactly what causes autism. For now, doctors and health care professionals recommend you get your children vaccinated and make sure your own shot is up to date so we don't see another preventable death.

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Do you vaccinate your children? Do you think parents should be required to? Are you at all concerned about vaccines or think they're necessary? Leave your comments below.

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