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
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
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
BigBadCough. Are they just trying to scare people, to sell
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
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
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.