Gasping for Air


Whooping Cough

When I was a baby, I almost died of whooping cough (that’s me on the left with Mum). As the story goes, my father rushed me into the hospital emergency ward, where a nurse heard my desperate gasping for air, ripped me from his arms with a look of horror and ran down the corridor to put me in a humidicrib with no time to spare.

No doubt the story has been embellished over the years, but I swear I still have a memory of that terrible feeling of trying to draw breath between wracking coughs.

Whooping cough, or pertussis, is a highly contagious bacterial disease. We may think of it as just one of those things that babies and kids used to get, but in fact, according to Wikipedia, it affects 48.5 million people yearly resulting in nearly 295,000 deaths. It’s also completely preventable due to a vaccine.

Of course, there are a growing number of complete idiots that think they know better than all the scientists and researchers whose efforts have saved millions of lives, and advocate not immunising your child against whooping cough (and other preventable diseases). Despite the fact that the vaccine, introduced in the 1940s, has dramatically decreased the number of deaths from the disease, unscientific and unsubstantiated anecdotes and rumours swirl about on the internet that vaccination can cause brain damage.

I was thinking about the idiocy of people who would rather trust anecdotal evidence than scientific research, as I’ve recently been suffering from what my doctor suggested may be whooping cough. My last immunisation was at the age of 15 and apparently it can wear off in your forties. Then I read this article which claims that a recent epidemic of the disease may be attributable to the ‘conscientious objectors’ of Byron Bay and the eastern suburbs and northern beaches of Sydney, who are not immunising their children. It’s not too far beyond the realms of possibility that I got my dose of it from just such a child.

Seriously, what is it with these parents? Want to go back to the ‘good old days’ folks? Back when mumps, tuberculosis, meningitis, smallpox and measles, to name a few, caused millions of death worldwide? In the same way smallpox was eradicated, we could actually conquer these diseases, wipe them from the planet, only some people read a few crackpot internet articles or believe their village witchdoctor or priest and decide they know better than the people who devote their lives to this research—and the disease lives on, feeding on ignorance and fear.

Science is not perfect, and there’s been the occasional misstep along the road to enlightenment. But by its very nature, it learns from its mistakes, and it’s the best method we’ve got of saving lives and making the world a better place. We have to eradicate the ignorance that causes people to believe anecdotal evidence and superstition, and to think that science is somehow involved in some vast evil conspiracy of secrecy. Everything I’ve read about the history of this planet tells me that there were never any ‘good old days’; in fact, most people led nasty, brutish and short lives, right up to the most recent of times (and of course, many people in less developed countries still do). What has improved most lives in almost every conceivable way? Science.

The most cursory review of the facts tells us that the human race has never had it so good—let’s not start going backwards now.