Other parents chose not to vaccinate

A San Francisco station does a better job of taking pertussis seriously in its report; it says it can be deadly for infants and children.

But then it talks to a citizen.

“Hopefully people will catch it when their kids are showing symptoms and they’ll get treated right away and keep them away from other people,” said Katie Kresnak, [whose three children attend school in the district.

All of Kresnak’s three children have current Tdap shots, but she says other parents chose not to vaccinate.

“It’s frustrating to me, but of course people have their own reasons for doing things like that and I have to respect that, but its times like this that put other people at risk so that is a little frustrating,” said Kresnak.

No. No you really don’t have to respect that, and you shouldn’t. There is no such imperative, and in fact you shouldn’t because people have bad reasons and they are endangering their own children and other people’s.

(Ok one possible not-unreasonable motivation for not vaccinating or for delaying it is if one child had a bad reaction. We were told about one such case yesterday and that’s understandable. It’s ok to respect that, while still urging vaccination. But that’s it.)

 

It’s not just “a persistent cough”

Well, here’s a terrible bit of reporting on the whooping cough epidemic in California from local CBS News.

Infants and young children are most vulnerable to whooping cough.

Symptoms vary by age but include a cough and runny nose for one or two weeks. The cough then worsens and children may experience rapid coughing spells that end with a “whooping” sound.

In infants, symptoms may not include an apparent cough, but could include episodes in which the child’s face turns red or purple.

In adults, symptoms may include a persistent cough for several weeks.

And that’s it. Sounds pretty harmless, doesn’t it – the cough gets worse and makes a funny sound, and/or the child might turn red or purple in the face. What CBS doesn’t say is that the rapid coughing means the child can’t inhale. The cough pushes the breath out and it keeps going and it’s rapid, so the person coughing can’t breathe in. That’s bad! It’s like drowning; it’s like being suffocated or strangled; it’s terrible and can be lethal. That “whooping” sound that seems so amusing is the desperate noise the cougher makes as she finally drags in a breath with the little strength she has left. It doesn’t sound anything like a whoop to me, it’s a roughly voiced gasp rather than a whoop.

Why would they describe the disease so incompletely and misleadingly?

Pertussis

This one is even worse. Again: warning. The cough goes on and on and on and on and she cannot get her breath.

I’ve done that gasp a few times as an adult, just from a regular cough with a cold – that dragging thing where you desperately try to haul in the air by force, and you make that sound. It’s awful. A tiny child doing it all day every day for months…deargod.

Updating to add: she’s fine now. She’d had all her shots, but got it anyway – but probably a milder dose. (That’s a milder dose? Oy.)

Vaccination history lesson

You know who developed the whooping cough vaccine? No neither did I until I looked it up. Pearl Kendrick.

In 1893, when Pearl Kendrick was a three-year-old growing up in Wheaton, Illinois, she was struck with a case of whooping cough – known as pertussis to scientists, named after the bacteria (Bordetella pertussis) that causes it. Four and one-half decades later she would have her revenge, developing the first effective vaccine to combat the ravenous disease.

Measles, scarlet fever, tuberculosis, diphtheria, polio… These are all dreadful diseases, but none claimed as many young lives in the United States in the 1920s as whooping cough.

At its height, whooping cough claimed over 6,000 lives each year in the United States. Remarkably, during the 1940s, it was responsible for the deaths of more infants than polio, measles, tuberculosis, and all other childhood diseases combined. Chicago officials were so alarmed they required infected children, following a two-week quarantine period, to be accompanied by an attendant and to wear a yellow armband with the words “Whooping Cough” written in large black letters on it.

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Rushing backward

California is being hit with a massive epidemic of whooping cough. Of whooping cough – one of those diseases for which there’s been an effective vaccine for more than 70 years.

California is being hit hard with a whooping cough epidemic, according to the state’s public health department, with 800 cases reported in the past two weeks alone.

The agency says that there were 3,458 whooping cough cases reported between January 1 and June 10, well ahead of the number of cases reported for all of 2013.

This is a problem of “epidemic proportions,” the department said. And the number of actual cases may be even higher, because past studies have shown that for every case of whooping cough that is reported, there are 10 more that are not officially counted.

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