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Stony Brook urges whooping cough vaccinations

Dr. Shetal Shah, far right of the Neonatal

Dr. Shetal Shah, far right of the Neonatal ICU, gives Jesse Atkins, of East Patchogue, the Bordetella pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine at Stony Brook University Hospital. (July 31, 2012) Photo Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

Dr. Shetal Shah gently opened an antiseptic wipe, smiling at new father Jesse Atkins, 30, of East Patchogue.

"Want to look away?" Shah, a neonatologist at Stony Brook Long Island Children's Hospital, asked as he sanitized a patch of skin on Atkins' left shoulder, prepping it for a vaccination against pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough.

Atkins shook his head no and glanced at his wife, Danielle, 32, who sat in an armchair with 5-day-old son Jesse. The infant is in Stony Brook's neonatal intensive care unit.

The Atkins family was taking preventive measures Tuesday against the potentially deadly disease, which has medical officials in New York and across the country worried it could become an epidemic among those most at risk -- children, college students and seniors.

At a news conference Tuesday at Stony Brook Long Island Children's Hospital, doctors said the outbreak is largely attributed to the fact that the vaccine is not permanent and urged the public to get inoculated.

They also voiced support for a new law signed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo last week that requires all hospitals in New York to offer parents and caregivers the vaccine as of Jan. 18, 2013. Currently, it is not mandatory for hospitals to offer the vaccine.

"Parents can have the whooping cough without exhibiting the debilitating symptoms their infant would experience," Shah said at the news conference. He added that 80 percent of the time, children with whooping cough contract it from a parent or household member.

In the first half of 2012 alone, 37 states have reported increased pertussis outbreaks and activity -- a total of more than 17,000 cases, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

New York ranks third in the number of reported cases nationally, with 1,288 so far this year, about three times the amount in 2011, according to the CDC. Long Island has reported 333 cases and New York City, 187 cases.

Most deaths occur among infants younger than 3 months old, according to the CDC.

Shah found that parents were eager to receive the vaccine and worked with Assemb. Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) and Sen. Kemp Hannon (R-Garden City) to get the legislation passed.

"Whooping cough is a disease that we thought vaccines had banished," Englebright said. "I learned otherwise."

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