Nothing to whoop about

Short stuff: Health roundup

Chicago, like the rest of the nation, has seen an increase in cases of meningitis and pertussis (whooping cough) the past several years. That and the rising number of parents who either opt out or alter the schedule of vaccines, has alarmed professionals.

Several medical journals, including the New England Journal of Medicine, have expressed concern that children who don’t receive vaccinations are not only at higher risk, but also place their community at increased risk of infection as well.

In the first half of 2008, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 131 people were infected with measles in 15 states, more than twice the average number of annual cases from 2000 to 2007. Sixteen of those cases were in Illinois, which allows parents to apply for a religious or medical exemption from vaccines. Twenty states allow such exemptions, and their opt-out rates rose from 1 percent in 1991 to almost 3 percent last year, according to the CDC.

Chicago pediatrician Dr. Anita Chandra says she has actually seen a slight drop from six months ago in the number of families wishing to opt out or postpone vaccinations.

“It seems like there has been less hysteria about vaccines,” she says."I make it a point very early in our relationship to share with families why I feel it’s very important.”

Parents’ concerns range from fears about the risks of mercury formerly used in vaccines, to the number of shots children receive at once. Chandra says she alleviates fears using scientific data and her own personal choice of vaccinating her four children.

“Vaccines are their own worst enemy because they have done a great job at eradicating many of these illnesses in this country. Most young physicians have never even seen a case of the measles,” she says."People really have become complacent about the severity of these illnesses.”

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