Pertussis can kill, and you can help stop it

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June 16 2011 7:00 AM

Pertussis can kill, and you can help stop it

Pertussis, known commonly as whooping cough, is a highly contagious disease. It's bad for anyone to get, but in infants it can result in death.

We have a vaccine that inoculates people against the bacterium. Yet, because not enough people get this vaccine, we're seeing pertussis (and measles) outbreaks in many, many places. And who suffers? Babies too young to be vaccinated.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death from the Skies! Follow him on Twitter.

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I want you to watch the following video. It's a segment on the Australian 60 Minutes program, which deals with this issue plainly and truthfully. It's an extremely difficult video to watch, as you'll see (I had to turn my head several times, to be honest) but it's also extremely important that everyone sees it.

Pay close attention to antivaxxer Viera Schiebner. Watch her demeanor, her manner, her attitude. This is a leader in their movement? To say her view of medicine, of reality, is skewed is to seriously understate the case. Barbara Holland Bronwyn Hancock, who works with Schiebner, justifies not getting vaccinated by making the outrageous statement that diseases can be beneficial.

I fail to see how exposing infants to potentially fatal infections is beneficial in any way.

Mia Freedman has written an excellent article about this. Apparently, only 11 8% of adults in South Australia, are vaccinated against pertussis [the 11% number is an average for all of Australia, my apologies for any confusion]. It's tempting to blame the antivaxxers for this, but I wonder. I know a lot of my readers here are not antivax, but how many have had their Tdap booster?

I have. As much as I talk about this issue, I didn't know I needed a booster shot for tetanus, diptheria, and pertussis until recently. As soon as I found out I went to my doctor and got the vaccination. Pertussis is spread by unvaccinated adults carrying the bacterium, so getting the booster shot will help lower the reservoir of hosts.

Getting the booster may not save your life, but it could very well save the life of an innocent infant too young to be otherwise protected. Go see your doctor, ask them about it, and if they recommend it, get the booster.

My thanks to Richard Saunders for the video, and to David McCaffery -- who appears in the above video with his wife Toni -- for the link to Ms. Freedman's article. David's daughter Dana would have been over two years old now if she hadn't succumbed to pertussis at the age of just four weeks.



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