Collected from your comments on the several pertussis posts I did over the weekend. There are also a couple about asthma, because the terrifying inability to draw a breath is common to both. There are also a few about watching loved others suffer through the horrible illness.
The loss of herd immunity can kick you in the ass even if you’ve done everything you can. My husband got pertussis last year – even though he was vaccinated, it can apparently wear off as you age. Usually not a huge problem, unless there’s suddenly a surge of cases of it from assholes who don’t vaccinate. He was sick for months. Didn’t break any ribs, but the coughing did such a number on his muscles that it was almost as bad. We’re also in a weird transitional time now in that it’s not supposed to be around, so isn’t necessarily treated seriously enough. It took two visits to his doctor to get it properly diagnosed, and then when he ended up in urgent care later because he was sure he had broken a rib (it was that painful), they refused to believe that he had pertussis until they got his actual records.
You bet it’s within living memory! When I was a young kid living in WW2 England, my younger sister, two years old, got whooping cough. I’ll never, ever forget it. She coughed and gasped for weeks. Of course what with wartime shortages and priorities there wasn’t a vaccine available then so it was a question of luck whether or not you got this horrible disease. She was unlucky. But anyone who voluntarily puts children, and not just his own but others too, at this kind of risk deserves some serious sanction. It’s nothing but reckless child endangerment which is a crime.
I had a mild case of whooping cough when I was a kid. That was before there was any kind of anti-vax movement, and I was vaccinated, so it was the usual low background rate thanks to vaccinations not being 100% effective for 100% of the population. I attribute the fact that it lasted maybe a week to partial vaccine effectiveness; even when they fail to prevent infection, they often reduce severity and duration.
It was still terrifying. I remember my parents taking me into the bathroom, closing the door, and turning the shower to max heat to generate a ton of humidity. That helped ease my coughing fits enough that I could breathe.
Horrible. I had whooping cough at age three and it’s one of my earliest memories, waking up in the middle of the night coughing so much that I vomited, night after night for I don’t know how long. After I recovered I was left with weak lungs and usually had a handful of chest infections each year, until the age of 18 ish. All because my family GP (!!!) told my parents that the whooping cough vaccine could cause dementia in some children, so I didn’t get vaccinated. Details of the late 70s/early 80s scare in the link below, turns out that it was rubbish obviously but damage done (I was one of the lucky ones all things considered). The thought of people doing this again to their kids makes me speechless – in fact a close friend is anti-vax, hasn’t protected her son from this, and I have no idea what to say to her.
I can relate; I get asthma attacks like that. Really hard coughing, airways close up, and suddenly I’m frantically gasping from a rescue inhaler — and coughing it out before it can do much good. The longest continuous run of this I’ve endured was about an hour, and every muscle between my shoulders and my hips hurt the next day. I’ve had the airways completely close up for several seconds at a time, seconds that seem like hours. I’ve had total strangers watch me go through this in public and offer to call 911. It sucks, but most of the time meds keep it under control.
To see that misery visited on a child, and for weeks or months? It just makes me want to cry in frustration. It makes me want to beat parents who don’t vaccinate about the head and ears. Hard. Lots. And I’m not normally a violent person.
My fully-vaccinated child got a mild case of it last summer at a sleepover camp (thanks, parents who sent their sick child to camp! Words just can’t describe my feelings for you!). The child came home sicker than I’ve ever seen a child get, and coughed for three months.
I had an awful case around 2000. I had my ribs x-rayed because the docs thought I had cracked or broken at least one, the pain was so bad. They couldn’t find anything on the x-rays, though. Even after the cough was gone (it lasted about 6 weeks), my ribs were sore for another month.
I was actually up to date on my shots at the time, so according to my doc (and she specialized in immunology and ‘travel medicine’) I had a mild case…..
That sucked. I get the booster every ten years now, for sure.
I’ve never had pertussis, but I’ve made those “whooping” noises before when I’ve been really sick, because any time I get a respiratory infection it plays hell with my asthma. I’ve found there’s no way of communicating the awful fear and panic you feel when you’re literally unable to breathe but your body keeps trying to cough.
I had whooping cough in 1962. I was 21 years old. The feeling of not being able to inhale is terrible. For 4 months after I was “over” the infection, I would be subject to paroxysmic coughing when I stepped out of my warm car into the winter air. Half the time I would throw up my lunch in the street. I lost 40 lb in those 4 months from whoopng cough. I also cracked my ribs coughing.
In 2013 I had to get the pertussis vaccine again to visit my grandchildren in San Francisco because of the epidemic of pertussis there. I think people who decide not to vaccinate their children are murdering other peoples children.
Had an (adult) friend down with the whooping cough, and in adults, it can present as a persistent cough… One that comes in doubling-over, near-fainting bouts, though, regularly, over several months. Now that’s persistent.
I had whooping cough when I was at secondary school, past the usual age to get it. It started as a normal cough that kept me off school.
I coughed myself out, then when I tried to breathe in, my throat had somehow closed. My lungs were empty, and I couldn’t breathe in even a gasp. I ran downstairs, flailed at my mum. She tried the Heimlich, although of course I hadn’t swallowed anything, then rang 999. I threw up a little onto the carpet, just a panic reaction. Still couldn’t breathe in. Just when I thought I was going to pass out, whatever weird muscular spasm had caused it relaxed. I still got taken to hospital. They never really found out what was behind it – but presumably is was some combination of whooping cough, asthma and other allergies.
After that initial scare, and I was back home, it would recur, although never as badly as the first time. Steam helped avoid having my throat close. I would cough so much that I coughed up spots of blood. I developed a sort of instinctual technique for breathing again after that initial attempted in-draw would fail. In hindsight, it’s pretty terrifying.
But that first time my throat closed, over two decades ago, when I was leaning over on the old black chair in front of what I was drawing in Duluxe Paint on the Amiga, on that desk next to the window in the back bedroom (after we’d got the better TV for it), I remember that incredibly vividly. It’s the most terrifying moment of my entire life.
I’m not sure whether I’d been vaccinated for it as a child or not – I think even if so I might have been past the age where it would have worn off.
So, to all parents who choose not to vaccinate for whooping cough:
I never had pertussis. I was vaccinated. My sister did and wasn’t. I’d have been about four, she about six. It’s not something an uncomprehending four year old wants to see happen to their big sister. I can barely imagine how she felt about it.
There must have been a good reason why she wasn’t vaccinated. Maybe she had a bad reaction, maybe there was some sort of mistake. My mother had been a nurse and seen children die from whooping cough. Growing up, I certainly felt like I was constantly having needles stuck in me (although to be fair, I was all the time doing things like falling in rusty barbed wire, being bitten by foxes etc. so they were mostly tetanus shots (plus a rabies near-miss)). They couldn’t have been more pro-vaccine. And of course, this was long before celebrity trumped medical degrees.
So for one reason or another she slipped through the net and the results were terrifying for everyone if fortunately not tragic. It might have been a mistake by my parents, by doctors or health administrators or a betrayal of my sister by her own body, I don’t know. But those parents who fucking invite that kind of terror upon a child because of their own, easily curable ignorance (and/or perhaps incurable ego)? Ben is right: Fuck You.
My worst bout of whooping cough was in 1966, when I was nearly nine.
I agree with everyone here – that moment when the coughing has almost completely depleted one’s lungs of air, and yet one’s body insists on more coughing and won’t let one inhale is the most terrifying feeling, exactly like drowning whilst surrounded by air. I have incomplete immunity to whooping cough, and have suffered from bouts of it (though not quite so badly as the first one) every time an epidemic happens.
But the most terrifying moments of my life were watching my daughter trying to survive pertussis at the age of two. She had not been vaccinated (despite my wishes*) because one of her brothers had absence seizures after his vaccinations and the doctors said that it was contra-indicated (this was the mid-eighties).
I had to nurse her myself, despite being sick with it and nursing another child ill with it (my eldest, who also has incomplete immunity despite being fully vaccinated) because the hospitals were full. Her fever was so high that cold flannels became hot flannels after half a minute in contact with her skin. Those frantic seconds every half an hour or so, when she had a coughing fit and couldn’t inhale – I wouldn’t wish those on my worst enemy; even as a witness, let alone a sufferer. Day in, day out, for over a week – I lost track of time.
Anyone who would voluntarily risk that for themselves is astonishingly short-sighted; that they would risk inflicting it on their children is mind-bogglingly cruel.
*I begged them “If the vaccination caused the petit mal (as it was then called) what the hell could the full-blown disease do?” By the time I had the twins, medical opinion had done an about-turn, and they are fully vaccinated – and without my having to fight with them, as I was quite prepared to do!
Added June 17
A year ago, January-February, I had **something** though it wasn’t pertussis. There’s another bacterium, I think it’s actually called parapertussis, though maybe that’s the disease name and not the genus. in any case, it causes all the symptoms of whooping cough, but for 6-12 weeks instead of months on end, and the most serious symptoms are limited to about a week or so, and even then are generally not as serious as actual whooping cough. It’s whooping cough very, very light.
And yet, I still had the coughing-out-air-when-there’s-no-air-and-I-feel-like-I’m-dying-to-take-a-breath experience. For me, it was a serious coughing attack once an hour to 4 or 5 times an hour at the worst. And yet, I think I only had multiple attacks in one hour for a single day, or maybe two.
And it just kills your energy. And this isn’t whooping cough. This made me exhausted and behind in law school work and completely miserable for about 5 weeks (it was around and annoying me for a week before and maybe 3 weeks after the period of actual, full-scale misery). I was seriously panicked for the one weekend where I was having multiple attacks per hour. I got bruises just from coughing. It really was horrid.
And this isn’t whooping cough.
Not vaccinating against whooping cough? Pure idiocy.
Added June 18
A few years ago, the Skepchick’s posted my Whooping Cough story, including a picture of my eyes after the coughing had burst every blood vessel in them.
It was awful. I coughed until I threw up and/or passed out multiple times a day. I didn’t sleep for days. While I had it I got a call from a friend who was at her doctor’s and had just been diagnosed with it. The reason she called me was because her doctor was young enough he’d never seen it and didn’t know how to treat it. He wanted to know what my doctor had prescribed.
A friend of mine in the health department here asked if I shopped at Whole Foods. When I said I did, he nodded his head and told me that most of the outbreaks of diseases that can be immunized against happen with Whole Foods as a nexus point because of all the parents who won’t vaccinate.
Adding: do read that post at Skepchick for the full details, which are horrifying.