by Cheri Rae
A decade ago, my healthy, strong second-grade son contracted pertussis, aka whooping cough. He had been fully immunized against this bacterial disease, but he got it anyway. Of all the childhood colds and flus, aches and pains, accidents and infections, the bout with whooping cough was by far the worst—and the after-effects went on forever.
In all the heated discussion about vaccines and anti-vaccines, here’s a little light: No one hears about the broken ribs, the weakened immune systems, the damaged bronchial tubes, the lost stamina, the time away from school. The amount of time it takes to fully heal.
Because his bronchial tubes were so damaged from the weeks that turned into months of coughing spasms, my son was left with “reactive airway disease,” and was under the care of our community’s asthma guru, Dr. Liebhaber. For four years he had an inhaler, one at home, one at school. He took Advair and Singulair, and sometimes, when his breathing was bad, he had to take doses of Prednisone. The humidifier was our best friend; dry, hot weather our worst enemy. During the ashy, particulate-filled days of the Tea, Zaca and Jesusita fires, he had to leave town.
There were ugly side effects to the powerful drugs, but he needed them to get better.
It was a long, tough journey back, and now that strapping high school senior is a picture of good health.
But here come the news reports that vaccine-preventable whooping cough is back in Santa Barbara. A disease that was nearly eradicated nationwide has taken hold across the state and far beyond—and there have been a few additional breakouts in town in the past 10 years.
I’ve been keeping track because it was such an unexpected and traumatic upheaval in our lives, that included a period when our family was quarantined in our home. I researched whooping cough. Wrote about it. Spoke out about it years ago on the “Today Show” and just last year I flew across the country to appear on a medical show on Public Television called “Second Opinion.” In short, I know more about whooping cough than any parent ought to.
In the past 10 years, a few things have changed: The FDA approved a booster shot for whooping cough, and it’s supposed to be given to every incoming high school student. But now, more parents have learned about “Personal Belief waivers” and have declined to immunize their children.
Despite widespread scientific evidence debunking the link between autism and vaccines the myth continues out of the mouths of politicians and celebrities and internet anti-vaxx “experts.” And we also know that the concept of herd immunity requires individuals to take responsibility for public health, and collectively vaccinate—to protect our own children and the community at large.
But still incidence of this awful disease keeps rising. And it is awful long after the 100 days of coughing finally subside.
These new cases of whooping cough will once again raise the voices of the organic, holistic, homeopathic-for-everything, believers in the notion that thinking positive thoughts and lots of fresh air and sunshine will keep the negative things in life away. They won’t want to listen to the fact that Bordetella pertussis is one highly communicable and very nasty germ that attacks anyway, no matter how pure your diet or your thoughts. And unless and until we change our thinking, and our actions, now that it’s taken hold again, it’s never going away.
Editor’s Note: A healthy herd immunity rate is around 95 percent. Waldorf is hardly the only school that has had an outbreak of whooping cough in recent years. Plenty of other public and private schools have had them as well. A Look up the immunization rate at your child’s school: http://www.shotsforschool.org/child-care/how-doing/