Whooping Cough Today. What The?

I remember a fragment of a conversation with my mother when I was a small child. It must have been about the time I was to get some vaccinations. She said with some passion “whooping cough is a wicked thing.”

Who could argue against that? The thought of a tiny baby literally coughing itself to death is just awful. The ready availability of vaccines for this and other deadly diseases means that some of the deadliest diseases are no longer a threat.

So why is it that in the last three weeks two families in our town have been infected with whooping cough with at least one member in each family seriously ill? How can this even be a thing in 2019?

As far as I know both families are fully immunised, and don’t have much direct contact. Which means that there is at least one other family carrying the bacteria in town.

As I understand it, in Australia immunisation rates are about 95%. The whooping cough vaccine gives about 80% protection, and if you do come down with the disease it is generally a less severe condition. In Narrabri there are likely to be about 350 people who are not immunised.

The effectiveness of the vaccine relies on everyone in a community being immunised so that the chances of being exposed to the disease is close to zero. But if the rates of vaccination fall, then everyone in the community is put at risk.

At particular risk then are babies who are yet to be sufficiently old to receive the vaccination. In recent years, pregnant women often receive a booster to pass on immunity to their child.

Some people refuse to immunise their children for all kinds of reasons, most of them not based in fact. There are rare side effects from some of these vaccines, and sometimes these are exaggerated in certain groups.

Whooping cough is still a wicked thing. Sadly it is still a real thing.

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