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Weighing In: Dr. Aguilar on Whooping Cough

Published: August 11, 2010

Dr. Doug hosts the radio program Radio Parallax, which can be heard in the Davis/Sacramento area on KDVS 90.3FM on Thursday evening from 5-6PM. Recently, Dr. Doug interviewed his friend and fellow physician Dr. Gary Aguilar about his contraction of the debilitating bacterium B. pertussis, the cause of the disease known as whooping cough. This firsthand account of the disease comes to us at an important time, as we are seeing a resurgence of whooping cough here in the states, and Dr. Doug and Dr. Aguilar give some pointers on what can be done about it.

RP: Alright we are going to talk to an old friend who has spoken on political matters in the past, but like the host of this program he also happens to be a  physician. Welcome back to Radio Parallax Dr. Gary Aguilar.

GA: Thank you Doug it is good to be back, I appreciate you having me on.

RP:  As doctors it is important to talk about medicine once in while I think.

GA: Not a bad idea.  (laughs)

RP: You’ve had a very harrowing experience as of late, and we need to talk about the fact that we are having a resurgence of whooping cough, partly inspired by the fact that a few knuckleheads have gotten people to stop getting vaccinations. You’ve been a victim of whooping cough, let’s talk about that.

GA: About four years ago, I came down with what struck me as a mild upper respiratory tract infection – a little muscle aches and pains, a little fever, a bit achy. It was right in the beginning of the summer as I was about to go to Mexico with my family. They flew down early – I had to work – and when they left, my aches an pain went away, my fever went away, but the cough began really ratcheting up. It is described in the literature as a paroxysmal cough; you are overcome with paroxysms of coughing that are entirely beyond your ability to control them. When this happened, I had known that I had been immunized as a child so I didn’t suspect anything odd like this. So immediately I though that I must have a lung tumor, so I went to get a chest x-ray. Everything was clear as a bell, all my tests were normal, but my cough kept getting worse and worse. What is described in the literature as a 100 day cough became to me a 120 day cough.

RP: Ouch!

GA: I can remember about 5 weeks into it the cough began tapering off. I was down from about 50 paroxysmal episodes of coughing per day, to about 25. It was so severe literally couldn’t take a breath. I talked to my internist and he thought it was just a bad cough. Then I began thinking about whooping cough, and I got out my old textbook.  “My god” I said to myself, that’s what I’ve got! So I began reading around, and I found out that immunization can last as little as 25 years, so someone who was immunized as a child could be at risk again as early as the age of 30 or so. There are two groups who normally get it, as you had mentioned there are the  kids who are not immunize because parents are worried about – you know- mercury in the vaccine or some other thing they think might be neurotoxic, but this is a very terrible disease, and it kills a lot kids. I don’t know the numbers off the top of my head, but there is a resurgence of whooping cough now, not only among kids, but with adults as well.

RP: What they’re telling us is that if you have a cough lasting two or more weeks, you need to think whooping cough. Now, you are an eye surgeon, you are not in the front  line of  people with infections, but people are passing through your office, and as a health care professional you are exposed more than others.

GA: That is certainly the case, but you know in public situations it is being passed around in the adult community. I’ve been making it a bit of my duty to remind patients, especially older ones that make certain that when they get vaccinated for other things, shingles etc, also get a DPT vaccine, get a booster shot. You are at risk at any time and believe me, it left me with an exercise induced asthma. I’ve never had asthma in my life, but in consequence of whooping cough, I would come back from a run and find my chest very tight and would be wheezing on exhale – a sign of asthma. After a cold or a flu I would also get a kick of asthma. Now nearly four years later I find myself using my inhaler less and less, I think it might be slowly going away.

RP: Jeez.

GA: It is a very crippling disease

RP: We should also let listeners know that when you get a tetanus shot they often through in diphtheria as well, but they wont include the pertussis with this, so If you want to get immunized, you will have to go out and do that separately.

GA: Right, and encourage you listeners to Google up whooping cough or pertussis. We heard a presentation at the community advisor meeting in San Francisco, they had someone coming around warning us of this spike in whooping cough, a spike that occurs about every five years for complicated epidemiological reasons. The spikes have been getting higher and higher and higher because there isn’t the full appreciation of this disease that there oughtta be. It is a killing disease of both adults and children, and believe me you do not want to sacrifice 3 or 4 months of your life to be woken up in the middle of the night convinced that you are going to die any moment because you cannot catch your breath.

RP: Well Gary, we appreciate this update very much, when it comes to the Fall and we reach cold and flu season we will be sure to come back to this subject  and give people a little reminder on this topic

GA: I hope you do. I hope you reach a lot of people and that someone listens to this and get the vaccine and is saved from this disease.

RP: Alright Gary thanks again

GA: Thank you Doug

As Dr. Doug and Dr. Aguilar mentioned, should you have a cough that persists for more than two weeks, you should pay a visit to your health care provider and mention whooping cough. Additionally if it has been more than 25 years since your last pertussis vaccination, you should talk to you physician about getting a booster shot. Furthermore, please get your children vaccinated for the disease, whooping cough can be deadly, especially in kids, and come this Fall health care professionals are expecting to see another outbreak of this lethal bacterial disease.