A number of years ago, my kid’s school had what seemed like a typical wave of respiratory illness. But because they were vaccinated, none of us considered that it was pertussis. This was before adults were recommended to get Tdap boosters.
I was pregnant and got sick. The first doctor I came to with a cough just thought a virus had worsened my asthma. He agreed to give me antibiotics just in case, but not before I went to a convention while already contagious.
A second doctor told me this wasn’t asthma, but he also didn’t know what it could be. I asked about pertussis, but he told me since I was vaccinated as a child, it couldn’t be that. Again, this was before it was understood that pertussis was on the rise and protection against infection was not permanent. We didn’t always recognize this milder form of pertussis back then.
Two weeks later, on Thanksgiving, I was whooping so badly that my skin was turning blue. An on call doctor heard my cough and diagnosed pertussis over the phone. I let people from the conference know and several of them tested positive.
Almost everyone in my family spent 3 months coughing that year. It ranged in intensity from my husband feeling like he kept getting water down the wrong pipe to me damaging a rib by coughing so hard. The pain was extraordinary. I was also on a CPAP for weeks as it took active effort to breathe.
Prevent Whooping Cough
Shortly after we recovered, they started recommending adult Tdap boosters. It’s now recognized that pertussis vaccination, like COVID vaccination, is very good at helping reduce the intensity of the illness for people who are not immune compromised, but may not be enough to stop transmission.
Many cases of pertussis don’t get recognized, and it can look different if you’re vaccinated. While the reduction in severity is worthwhile, relying on vaccine immunity alone to prevent every case is unrealistic. It’s a good reason for families to be very careful around those with young babies who are too young to have been fully vaccinated. It’s also a very good reason to get your recommended boosters (which do reduce transmission).
Once you have full-blown whooping cough, the only real cure is time. Very few people can deal with 3 months of severe illness without terrible financial consequences. I fell sick in November and was not well until February. My child was born the very next month, and if it had happened any earlier they might also have been exposed.
Jenrose is a writer and parent in the Pacific Northwest, and has been active online since the early days of the internet. Their story, like all others on this blog, was a voluntary submission. If you want to help make a difference, submit your own post by emailing us through our contact form. We depend on real people like you sharing experience to protect others from misinformation.