January 14, 2009

Why Vaccinate? Pertussis

Apropos of the sudden influx of self-righteous antivax parents suddenly popping up at Greg's, it's time for another of these posts.

Our local paper noted earlier this year that we were possibly in for a peak year of pertussis, or whooping cough cases in the state. Pertussis is one of those lovely diseases where herd immunity counts for a lot.

Pertussis is a highly contagious bacterial infection that causes intense and persistent coughing in older children and adults. In infants it can be fatal.

Babies routinely get vaccinated for it at 2, 4 and 6 months, but they are not fully protected until after their third shot. Young children get another dose before entering school.

But the vaccine wears off, and older children can become infected. For most of them the illness can result in weeks of coughing, and they can infect vulnerable infants. Last year in Minnesota 11 infants were hospitalized for pertussis.

Since 2005 doctors and health officials have recommended a new vaccine for adolescents and adults, largely to protect infants. But nationally only about a third of adolescents and teenagers have received it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Only a third of the most common vectors for the disease are vaccinated. But hey, keep your infants away from teenagers and they should be fine, right? Of course, you won't have a babysitter for six months.

Luckily most parents do vaccinate their infants as soon as possible, but when they don't, what are they potentially letting their children in for?

The baby was 9 months old, his birth weight was 8 lbs 5 ounces. At six months he weighed just shy of 20 pounds. Today he weighed 15 pounds - he was a skeleton and he was dying.

Mom had brought him in after treatment by his naturopath had failed. Constant coughing had made it impossible for him to take in adequate nutrition and starvation, coupled with a raging bacterial pneumonia were conspiring to shortly end his very short life.

We worked feverishly. Intubation, IV boluses, major antibiotics, vasopressors. All futile.

The end of the story is at ERNursey, but do you really have to read it? Just get those kids stuck.


JLK said...

This is one of the issues that will go into my eventual "crazy new parents" blog that I haven't yet gotten around to writing.

Then in grad school I'm going to try to figure out why this particular generation of parents is so fearful and eager to do everything the opposite of their own parents, even though they obviously turned out fine.

Complete and utter irrationality that leads to the exact opposite of the initial desired outcome, (not vaccinating your baby because you think it's dangerous, only to have him or her die because of your decision), is incredibly sad, but fascinating from a human behavior perspective. And we can't make this craziness stop until we know why it's happening.

Stephanie Zvan said...

JLK, I'm very glad I'm not the only person who finds this kind of behavior fascinating. I always feel a little dirty after poking at it. More power to you on figuring out how to cut through it.