Babies battling life-threatening, highly-contagious infections like whooping cough seem like a thing of the past since vaccinations are not only readily available but required for children to be able to attend schools and most day cares. However, warned Patricia Maszk, manager of the Community Outreach program at Chandler Regional Hospital, a recent U.S. whooping cough outbreak was a realization for many parents and doctors that immunization education had decreased. "We're quite well-immunized, as a country, which is why we don't see things like polio and tetanus now," she said. "But that doesn't mean we should let our guard down." Now is the time for such reminders, says Maszk, as parents prepare their kids to start or return to school - buying fresh note pads and yellow pencils, and making appointments to visit the family physician - a good source for any parents wary of any side effects of vaccinations. "They're always doing research on these shots, as parents are always concerned," Maszk said. "The best advice is to go to the CDC's (Center for Disease Control) Web site and check out any information on vaccines and primary care doctors." For parents lacking a family physician or even funds to properly immunize their children, Catholic Healthcare West will begin offering free vaccines for everything from polio and measles to meningitis and chickenpox starting in early August. "Tdap is probably one of the most important ones to get right now," Maszk said. "That covers tetanus, diphteria and whooping cough for older children - because of that whooping cough outbreak. Meningitis is required - there's a big vaccine push from schools." DTaP is the version for children under 7 years old, also a safer version of DTP, a vaccine no longer used in the United States. Reactions to such vaccines range from soreness to seizure, though severe reactions are rare, according to the CDC. Whooping cough is so-called because of the characterizing "whooping" sound children infected with the respiratory disease. According to the CDC, there were more than 25,000 cases reported in the United States in 2004 (the last year for which data was available). These cases occur in children and infants who are not vaccinated at all or are incompletely vaccinated - the immunization for whooping cough is a five-part process. In some cases, it can cause death for infants who cough so hard they are unable to breathe. "We don't think of these diseases anymore because we are quite well-immunized," said Maszk, adding, "but we can't let our guard down - that would be catastrophic." Lauren Vasquez can be reached at (480) 898-7917 or email@example.com.