The mother of one of my patients told me an interesting story this week. She brought her thirteen-month-old daughter in because of fever and respiratory distress. The reason the mother was so worried was that about three weeks earlier, her daughter came into the emergency department very ill with an acute respiratory illness. After being admitted to the hospital, she worsened and had to have a breathing tube put into her windpipe, be placed on a ventilator and be cared for in the intensive care unit.
Tests showed that her illness was caused by an infection of Bordetella pertussis. She had whooping cough. Fortunately, with antibiotics and aggressive medical attention in the ICU, she recovered and was going to be fine.
The mother told me she was an acupuncturist who had always believed that, in medicine, less was better. She had purposefully avoided any vaccinations, having fallen in with the “antivax” crowd. She felt that vaccinations carried more risk than potential benefit. She had obviously now changed her mind and had the baby scheduled to start on her vaccinations. She could now see that her perspective on illnesses like whooping cough was warped because of the success of vaccinations.
Vaccines are so effective that we have removed the targeted illnesses from our experience so it is easy to be deceived into thinking they are not a threat. At the same time, alarmist, poorly thought-out ideas against immunizations are everywhere and have a big influence on people.
As far as I know, I have only seen two patients, before this girl, who had whooping cough. They were young sisters, also unvaccinated, who were really sick with a miserable cough and were admitted to the hospital. I don’t think I have ever seen anyone with measles or polio.
Diseases like whooping cough, measles and polio caused lots of problems when my father was a boy. Because of vaccinations, most people in America have never seen anyone sick with one of these illnesses so they fall into a false belief that the vaccinations are a problem rather than a way to prevent problems.
With the illness of her daughter, realty set in with this mom and, fortunately, she is very glad to have a second chance.
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