From the deepest fog of sleep, I sat up in bed and dialed the callback number. When she answered the phone, I could hear worry mixed with panic, and then the mother said her name. “Yes, ma’am, how can I help you?” I said.
“Well, he’d had just a trace of runny nose, but he was fine, really. Then he woke up coughing so badly… crying and coughing, it’s like he can’t breathe! And he was practically fine this morning! It’s not like whooping cough or anything, but it’s like he can’t breathe…”
Plans for a visit to the emergency room were made, and I called ahead to let the ER doctor know to expect the family. I also called to let them know that the toddler had not been vaccinated…and I asked my pediatrician colleague to keep pertussis and HiB epiglottitis in mind along with the pneumonia and croup we had been seeing in our office.
Their story is important, because it wasn’t whooping cough. It could have been, but it wasn’t. Here in Virginia, we recently had a serious outbreak and resurgence of whooping cough, and I asked permission to tell this family’s story to help spread the word about the return of Bordetella pertussis.
Nasty little bacteria. Many of the commonly used antibiotics don’t kill it at all, and the germ can smolder for long stretches of time passing from one person to the next readily. Erythromycins are the only antibiotic that kill the bacteria, and it is not often a first-choice antibiotic in children. Delay in diagnosing is serious because the longer the germ lives in a child, the more of its neurotoxin gets into the body. It’s the neurotoxin that creates these hideous cough jags that go on and on and on…”crying and coughing, it’s like he can’t breathe…”
The vaccine for pertussis is a good one, and anyone older than two months can get it. Dee-Pee-Tee we call it…used to be only for children, but they made an adult version, and now anyone can sign up to protect themselves and to provide herd immunity for those under two months. The video clip explains more about the germ and the illness. It’s one family’s story.
It’s something every adult reading today can do for the babies. Let’s figure a way to rid the world of another communicable disease. Polio is gone; it’s time for pertussis to go, too.
A Vaccine Supporter, I am
Gayle Schrier Smith, MD