- Associated Press - Saturday, August 9, 2014

TWIN FALLS, Idaho (AP) - Public health officials are seeing an increase in the number of whooping cough cases caused by a wave of anti-vaccination theories they say are risky and unfounded.

Officials, doctors and educators are asking parents to vaccinate their children, as thousands of Magic Valley youth return to classrooms this month.

Idaho has one of the lowest immunization rates in the nation. Fewer than 60 percent of the state’s 2-year-olds have up-to-date immunizations compared with the national average of 71 percent, South Central Public Health District reports.

Parents are allowed to exempt their children from immunizations for medical, religious or personal reasons. The Magic Valley’s immunization exemption rate is 6 percent, with another 14 percent listed as under-immunized, the Health District reports.

One of the most under-vaccinated diseases is the highly contagious and potentially deadly pertussis - commonly known as whooping cough.

Whooping cough often presents symptoms similar to a common cold and evolves into a cough so bad it can cause vomiting, said Dr. Brian Birch, a St. Luke’s pediatrician.

In adults and teenagers, the bacterial infection is mostly an annoyance, but can be deadly for children, he said. A 2-year-old with whooping cough has a 1 percent chance of dying.

In many cases, unvaccinated parents or siblings put their children in the most danger. Unvaccinated children also put others who can’t be immunized for legitimate health at risk, too, he said.

This year, there have been 33 cases of whooping cough in the Magic Valley. In June, a 3-month-old was hospitalized with complications from pertussis, the Health District reported.

Minidoka and Cassia counties are seeing a higher number of whooping cough cases - 12 this year - than the rest of the area, said Lisa Klamm, Health District nurse immunization coordinator. Many cases likely go unreported or self-diagnosed as something else.

Earlier this year, several whooping cough cases were reported in Filer and Buhl, leading the Health District to urge residents to check their immunization status.

While anti-vaccination theories have spread in some areas, vaccinations rates are up in others. That’s the case in Jerome, where about 1 percent of the district’s 3,660 students weren’t vaccinated last school year, Superintendent Dale Layne said. Just 3.7 percent of the district’s students were under-immunized and conditionally allowed into school because they were on track to meet requirements.

The school district hasn’t had a dedicated nurse in years, so school secretaries have taken on the extra duties of notifying parents of student illnesses and compiling immunization reports, Layne said.

People are supposed to be vaccinated several times throughout their lives, starting at 2 months of age. Birch said parents’ anti-vaccination beliefs has “ebbs and flows,” but more and more parents in the Magic Valley are opting to forego or delay vaccinations for several reasons.

Many parents bring up concerns about vaccines causing autism, but Birch said, “every research study that’s ever been done looking at that has disproven any connection.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and American Academy of Pediatrics also report there is no link between the rise in autism and vaccines.

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