North Idahoans are dragging their babies and toddlers to health centers for vaccinations - finally.
All they needed was a scare.
The tragic death of a 2-year-old boy who had contracted pertussis, or whooping cough, provided that scare recently. That, and the screaming headlines since then documenting the whooping cough outbreak.
On Tuesday, this latest North Idaho epidemic stood at 71 cases - 63 in Kootenai County alone. The caseload has risen sharply since the outbreak was detected two weeks ago and ultimately could top the 173 cases treated in the winter of 1994-95.
Now, the disease has jumped the state line.
Although there’s no need for parents to panic, they should watch their children for symptoms of the disease - runny nose, watery eyes and sneezing.
And when the scare is over in a couple of weeks? Parents, particularly those in North Idaho, should do a better job of immunizing their youngsters against diseases that terrorized their parents’ and grandparents’ generations.
It’s not by accident that Idaho has one of the highest incidences of whooping cough in the nation - nor that, in 1991, it had the country’s highest rate of measles cases. In fact, it’s quite predictable. Idaho has the lowest immunization rates for 2-year-olds in the country: 66 percent statewide, 61 percent in North Idaho. Washington’s rate is better but not good enough: 78 percent.
Panhandle Health District staffers, who have been working 12- to 14-hour days to combat the current outbreak, believe a vaccination rate of 90 percent to 95 percent is needed to prevent outbreaks - that, and a communitywide effort. Said Marie Rau, a Ph.D. nursing supervisor: “The community is the army and the disease is the enemy.”
The new Idaho Baby Track Program, offered by health districts and Kootenai Medical Center, should help the community effort. It provides a tracking and recall system that reminds parents of a need for follow-up vaccinations. Other soldiers in this fight include doctors, who should make a point of checking that immunizations are current; schools and day-care centers, which shouldn’t allow children to enter without proper vaccination records; and insurance companies and vaccine providers that must work to keep the cost of immunizations reasonable.
Ultimately, however, parents hold the key to this winnable fight. Father and mother have to realize that vaccinating their children is a critical part of nurturing them - before the next outbreak occurs.
, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = D.F. Oliveria/For the editorial board
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