Physician promotes vaccines to prevent whooping cough

Physician promotes vaccines to prevent whooping cough

submitted by Dr. William J. Cochran

It was April 2010. My son and his fiancee had just moved into a fixer-upper in Mobile, Ala., and my wife and I traveled down to help them get settled in their new home. While there, I developed a troublesome cough.

I assumed the dusty environment irritated my asthma. When my asthma medications didn't help, I tried a round of steroids. But over the course of my 10-day stay in Alabama, the cough continued to worsen. By the time I returned to Danville, Pa., and my job as a pediatric gastroenterologist at Geisinger Medical Center, I was racked with paroxysms - horrendous coughing spells that would cause me to turn blue, vomit or pass out. Worse than the coughing was the severe chest pain, likely caused by ribs that had fractured as a result of the coughing.

I turned to my pulmonologist who suspected my asthma. Given the severity of the cough, I asked about pertussis, more commonly known as whooping cough. At 57 years old, the diagnosis would have been unusual, but not unheard of. We did the test, a simple swabbing of the back of the nose. It was positive.

Relieved to have a diagnosis, I was also discouraged because I knew the road that lay ahead of me. Whooping cough is also known by another name: the 100-day cough, and it lived up to the moniker.

From April to July, I endured racking coughs, though none as bad as I experienced the two weeks prior to diagnosis. Woken constantly by coughing fits, I didn't sleep for more than 90 minutes at a time.

I later learned that I contracted pertussis, which is highly contagious, from a child in the clinic in Danville. A course of antibiotics rendered me no longer contagious, but because my diagnosis was delayed, the cough persisted.

What's more, while my illness went undiagnosed, I examined patients and worked among nurses and doctors at Geisinger, all of whom had to be urgently vaccinated. I traveled on four different airlines, all of which had to be notified, along with the passengers who traveled alongside me. My illness was also reported to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Departments of Health in Pennsylvania, Alabama and Maryland - states I visited during my illness. It can be fatal, particularly in infants. Of the 26 deaths from pertussis in 2010, 22 involved children younger than 1 year old.

But the most difficult fact for me to swallow as a physician was that I simply didn't know I needed an adult booster shot to protect myself, my patients and my family.

Since my ordeal, I've become a proponent of adult vaccinations. The Tdap (Tetanus, Diptheria, Pertussis) adult booster is affordable, costing about $38, according to industry data submitted to the CDC. My simple message to all adults: Vaccines aren't just for kids anymore. Talk to your doctor about protecting yourself - and those around you.

Dr. William J. Cochran is vice chairman of Janet Weis Children's Hospital in Danville, Pa., part of the highly rated Geisinger Health System, and a board-certified pediatric gastroenterologist. His clinical interests include nutrition/malnutrition, inflammatory valve disease, liver disease and obesity.

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