Whooping Cough and the Anti-Vaccine Wackos

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The epidemic of whooping cough that already has infected more than 900 people in California and killed at least five infants appears to be spreading into Oregon.

The Medford Mail Tribune reported yesterday that Jackson County has recorded 23 cases of the disease so far this year – roughly four times the usual number for this far into the year.

“The cases confirmed in lab testing have hit patients ranging from 2 months old to 55 years old,” the Mail Trib wrote. “Studies have shown that a relatively small fraction of cases are diagnosed and confirmed, so more people in the county likely have been infected, officials said.”

California declared a whooping cough epidemic Wednesday after health officials noticed a sharp spike in cases, mostly among Latinos. “All told, 910 cases have been confirmed, with several hundred more under investigation,” the New York Times wrote. “If the pace keeps up, the outbreak could be the largest in the state in 50 years, the California Department of Public Health reported.”

Whooping cough, or pertussis, is an infection of the respiratory system that starts out like a common cold. But after a week or two the symptoms get worse and the victim develops a severe cough and the characteristic “whooping” breathing sound that gives the disease its name. Whooping cough is especially dangerous for infants, elderly adults and people whose immune systems are weakened.

Because the disease is highly contagious and modern society is so mobile, health officials throughout the nation are watching the California situation with concern.

The tragedy in all this is that whooping cough can easily be prevented by vaccination – but for a variety of reasons, including the loony anti-vaccination movement, many parents are failing to get their kids vaccinated.

“Officials are still investigating the causes of the [California] outbreak, but some have already suggested that the anti-vaccine movement could be at least partly to blame,” writes Mother Jones magazine, noting that California is the “epicenter” of the anti-vaccination movement.

Dr. Andrew Wakefield, the British physician whose 1998 “research” purporting to show a connection between vaccination and autism started the anti-vaccine hysteria, has been thoroughly discredited and in May was stripped of his license to practice medicine. But the quackery he peddled still finds plenty of eager buyers.

The persistent belief that vaccination causes autism seems to rest on the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy – the assumption that because B came after A, A must have caused B. “Some children who were vaccinated were later diagnosed as autistic; therefore, vaccination causes autism” goes the thinking, ignoring the fact that no causal mechanism between vaccination and autism has been shown – not to mention that millions of kids get vaccinated and DON’T become autistic.

“Fears about vaccines are nothing new, but they’ve been revived in recent years by anti-vaccine crusaders who’ve junked science in favor of medical myths and conspiracy theories,” Mother Jones observes. “In the US and abroad, they’ve popularized the notion that vaccines cause autism and that whooping cough is not actually fatal, among other falsehoods. There’s also the tireless conservative argument — promulgated by folks like the Eagle Forum’s Phyllis Schlafly — that government-required vaccines infringe upon individual liberty.”

It’s funny how the wackos of the extreme left and the extreme right find common ground in the belief that government is a vast, evil conspiracy dedicated to robbing them of their rights, their property, their health and their lives.


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