Watching Whooping Cough Way Out West

The other day Orac at Respectful Insolence wrote about yet another case where failure to vaccinate has caused a resurgence, in this case of measles in New Zealand.


Otherwise preventable and potentially fatal diseases are popping up in communities around the world as the importance of immunization is ignored by a generation of parents who never knew these diseases.

Well, looks as though they're beginning to find out.

I'm keeping my eye on a similar case brought to my attention by my Twitter feeds from Colorado (if I can't be there, I'll at least read about it). This report from the Colorado Springs Gazette tells us that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are currently investigating a burst of 101 confirmed cases of pertussis (whooping cough) in Durango, CO, and surrounding areas in La Plata country and the greater Four Corners region.

(Please note that while the colloquial abbreviation for the organization is CDC, prevention (by vaccination in this case) is a key component of disease control. However, CDCP doesn't quite roll off the tongue the same way.)

Back in January the Durango Herald News ran a story about a pertussis vaccination program in the area; I love the logical invocation of the unwritten Code of the West:

Getting vaccinated is not only sensible in terms of personal health, it is the socially responsible thing to do. It is essentially a civic duty, not unlike how trimming flammable brush protects the neighbors' homes from fire as well.

Parents who are unsure should check their children's immunization status. Adults, too, can check with their doctors to ensure that they have had a pertussis shot.

For anyone who needs one, San Juan Basin Health Department will hold a pertussis vaccination clinic from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday at its office at 281 Sawyer Drive in Bodo Park. A donation of $14.70 is requested, but no one will be turned away for lack of money.

The latter point I have put in boldface is key: while we at ScienceBlogs often criticize parents, largely of comfortable means, for their anti-vaccination stances, a large swath of vaccination failures in the US is a result of an inability to pay for or access to vaccines.

Time will tell whether the latest outbreak of pertussis in the Four Corners is associated with vaccination failures.

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My oldest is starting Kindergarten and it is amazing how much documentation we had to do to prove she was fully vaccinated before starting school.

In Minnesota, at least, it seems nearly impossible to be in school and not be fully vaccinated, but obviously several unvaccinated students get through. As this number increases (which apparently is the case) the herd immunity becomes progressively compromised. At least my kids won't get rubella, measles, etc...

Similar in spirit to an initiative in the Rouge River Valley in Oregon, I think it was Medford (I reported the story about 7 yrs ago,so the recollection is fuzzy). Pollution from wood-fired stoves was hanging over the valley and increasing health risks to all the usual kinds of folks (asthma, heart disease sufferers, etc).

Local officials had gotten through a tax subsidy on gas fired furnaces, but no takers... until they came up with the brilliant idea of selling the conversion from wood to gas as a form of civic responsibility. Pollution levels dropped dramatically over, like, a 2-year period.

By RoseHoban (not verified) on 21 Aug 2009 #permalink

I'm going to the doctor for my annual exam next week, and I'm planning to ask if I can get an updated pertussis vaccine as well. (Does the adult version come with tetanus? I need that updated, as well.)

It will be interesting to see whether anti-vaccination parents are part of the problem here. (I know that my kid's pre-school treated vaccination as a parental choice, and I've met a lot of parents who don't want to vaccinate their kids.)

We'll be having a daughter next month (next month! bloody hell...) and she'll be getting all her inocculations. These are all free on our Hitler-loving, pinko socialist NHS.

I'm glad that these jabs are free for our child but I'm not too chuffed at the thought that there may be parents at her nursary next year that won't be doing the same.

I was pleased to note that most of the parents at our ante-natel classes were very vocally in favour of MMR at our last meeting. It seems that the message is starting to get through here in the UK

@Kim Hannula (#3) Yes, indeed, the acellular pertussis vaccine for adults comes packaged with tetanus and diptheria. Prior to this vaccine, kids got dpT and adults got dT; now adults get dpT too.
I always get achy with dT; had a nagging headache as well for a couple of days with the pertussis-containing vaccine.
Based on observing children with pertussis and probably having experienced it myself (no test at the time, but I coughed till I vomited and blew out blood vessels in my conjuntivae) it is a disorder to be avoided.

Boulder is one of the best-educated towns on earth; yet, sadly, Boulder is also a hotspot of pertussis, largely because of one quirky school's philosophy. Even more sadly (for me), some intelligent, highly educated and dearly loved family members have climbed right on board the anti-vaccination train, simply because it's hitched to the homeopathy-mercury-anti-western-medicine train. Bright spot: they came to this place only after their kids had passed the age of immunization.