Wolves and whooping cough
© by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, October 15, 2015


First I must apologize to readers for the typos that appeared in my column last week, about “things we think we know that are wrong.” And yet, these typos led to this new column that could perhaps save lives. Serendipity.

My usual process is to write my column, sleep on it, then go back and correct any typos or double-check any facts, often with Chip’s input. But between those two versions, I was sent by my doctor to the emergency room at Salem Hospital because of symptoms that a nurse-practitioner thought might be pneumonia. I strenuously objected, but Chip thought we should follow directions rather than take a chance.

So there we were, in the waiting room, with a lot of coughing patients, as you might expect. But one cough sounded odd to me: “Chip,” I said, “I think that woman has whooping cough!” I don’t know how I recognized it, perhaps a memory from my childhood, before a vaccine combined with tetatus, diphtheria, and pertussis (another word for whooping cough) had pretty much removed the pertussis threat from anyplace I lived in the United States.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), “Following the introduction of pertussis vaccines in the 1940s when case counts frequently exceeded 100,000 cases per year, reports declined dramatically to fewer than 10,000 by 1965. During the 1980s pertussis reports began increasing gradually, and by 2014 more than 32,000 cases were reported nationwide.”

Please, let’s not speculate on what happened in the 1980s, including the amnesty Immigration Act of 1986. Anyhow, Chip now agreed that we should leave, so we went to check out at the admissions desk; instead of letting us go, they put me into a treatment room, from where I was sent for X-rays. When I came back, the woman with the Big Cough was sharing my treatment room, fortunately behind a plastic curtain.

Over the next hour, I was told by the excellent ER doctor that one can hear a harmless blood vessel sound through the stethoscope that mimics pneumonia; so I was sent home. But before I left I heard another doctor tell the woman’s Spanish interpreter that she does have whooping cough. Whoa, in Salem, Massachusetts, in 2015?

My next thought, for both Chip and me, was how long does that childhood vaccination last? I asked my son to check the twins’ vaccination status; he said they got updates on all their shots in seventh grade in Nevada. I found his childhood vaccination book; he got his original diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus shot when he was a few months old, the booster when he was almost two, and then again when he was five and we got shots to move to Greece.

I couldn’t find my book but had the same doctor, who also gave me many shots before I was an exchange student in Mexico. So, I checked the CDC site, which seems to say at first that once we get a booster, as a child or maybe a young adult, we never need the pertussis shot again. For 50 years? Except, the CDC continues, “Women should have a dose of Tdap (the updated version) during each pregnancy, irrespective of their history of receiving Tdap.” And, “pertussis vaccines ... typically offer good levels of protection within the first two years of getting vaccinated, but then protection decreases over time. This is known as waning immunity.” Swell.

Which brings me to the Big Bad Wolf ad. Have you seen it, on television, or in last weekend’s Parade Magazine insert in your newspaper? As this young couple drive with their newborn baby to the grandparents’ house, they are unaware that grandma is coughing, and as grandma and grandpa take the baby to hold, they turn into wolves (in granny glasses). The print says, “My, what a big whooping cough you have.” And explains “understand the danger your grandchild faces from whooping cough ... that can be especially serious — even fatal — for infants. Unfortunately, many people who spread it may not know they have it.” It even refers to the CDC, which “recommends everyone, including those around babies, make sure their whooping cough vaccinations are up to date.”

OK, reader, why wouldn’t your vaccination be up to date if you got the booster as a child, a teen, or a young adult? Mine apparently did last for more than 50 years, since no one seems concerned that Chip or I might have caught whooping cough last week.

So where is this new ad campaign semi-panic coming from? A group called gsk (GlaxoSmithKline, a pharmaceutical corporation) takes credit; you can find its TV ad on BigBadCough. Are they just trying to scare people, to sell vaccines?

Another group called “Moms in Charge” who are against vaccinations make this accusation. I imagine that non-vaccinating Americans are part of the return of some communicable diseases to our country. Keep your newborn baby, too young to get the first vaccine, away from their kids.

I think it’s possible that other sick people in that emergency waiting room, who also weren’t speaking English, aren’t vaccinated; I hope they were told that another patient had been just diagnosed with pertussis, before they visit newborn babies.

Later I learned that pertussis is contagious only when one breathes in the droplets that someone who has pertussis is breathing out. So I’m just warning you here not to share any droplets. Since no one in the waiting room was wearing a mask, Chip and I should have put one on ourselves.

Certainly don’t mean to imply that there’s a threat from illegal immigrants who haven’t been checked out for disease at the border, any more than we should worry that there’s a threat from refugees coming from terrorist countries in the Middle East. “Compassionate” people don’t question these things.

But it does seem important to know that at a recent Senate subcommittee on immigration, the Homeland Security official in charge of vetting Syrian and other foreign Muslim refugees confessed that no police or intelligence databases exist to check the backgrounds of incoming refugees against criminal and terrorist records.

Also, though the United States eliminated measles in 2000 for American citizens, new cases have been triggered by measles viruses imported from other countries, and the CDC is recommending new vaccinations for our children.

Making it all more interesting, some wolf support groups are complaining that wolves are being made the bad guys again in this Whooping Cough ad. I agree: Wolves’ lives matter, too.

Barbara Anderson of Marblehead is a weekly columnist for the Salem News and Eagle-Tribune Publishing Company.

The comments made and opinions expressed in her columns are those of Barbara Anderson
and do not necessarily reflect those of Citizens for Limited Taxation.

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