This arti­cle is part 2 of 7 in the series Other Bad Bugs We Have Known

Our pre­vi­ous arti­cle showed how sci­en­tists and doc­tors devel­oped a vac­cine to pre­vent diph­the­ria, which was the lead­ing cause of child­hood death around the world. We also found that most adults did not die of the dis­ease. Nevertheless, the adults back then had enough com­mon sense and com­pas­sion to know that if they were vac­ci­nat­ed it would help stop the unnec­es­sary death of their own chil­dren as well as every­one else’s chil­dren. This was an exam­ple of the sim­ple Christian val­ue of lov­ing one’s neigh­bor as your­self. And it worked. Diphtheria is very rare in the U.S.

Now let us look at two oth­er bac­te­r­i­al dis­eases that vac­cines have basi­cal­ly stopped or at least brought under con­trol: tetanus and whoop­ing cough.

Tetanus is dif­fer­ent from oth­er bac­te­r­i­al dis­eases because it does not spread by human con­tact. It is caused by bac­te­r­i­al spores that enter the body through a cut or break in the skin.

The lit­er­a­ture says that tetanus spores are locat­ed every­where all around the world. This is a bit mis­lead­ing. If the spores were lit­er­al­ly every­where, then any cut to our skin could lead to a case of tetanus. A bet­ter state­ment would be that the tetanus spores can be any­where but are not actu­al­ly every­where. Therefore, to be safe, it is always best to wash, clean, and dis­in­fect any cut that we receive.

Tetanus spores are most com­mon­ly found in soil, sali­va, dust, and poop. Which, come to think of it, is pret­ty much everywhere.

Tetanus is also called lock-jaw. Your jaw tight­ens, your back arch­es, your legs become rigid, your arms draw up to the body, and your fists clench. Then you get repeat­ed and high­ly painful seizure-like spasms that last for sev­er­al min­utes. Painfully long min­utes. Then you do it again. And again. Plus, it’s hard to breathe.

If you get a case of tetanus, there are med­i­cines and antibi­otics that help fight the symp­toms but there is no cure. If you haven’t been vac­ci­nat­ed, you just have to expe­ri­ence the pain until your body fights off the bac­te­ria. Tetanus can kill you but usu­al­ly doesn’t. On the oth­er hand, you and your fam­i­ly can use your com­mon sense and avoid the whole painful expe­ri­ence by get­ting the vaccine.

There is a com­mon mis­con­cep­tion that you get tetanus by step­ping on a rusty nail. This is true only if the nail has tetanus spores already on it. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t. However, relat­ing tetanus with rusty nails is a good reminder to get a tetanus boost­er every ten years because the vac­cine becomes less effec­tive over time.

Therefore, if you are vac­ci­nat­ed for tetanus, you can go ahead and step on all the rusty nails you want to.

If you recall from the first arti­cle on Other Bad Bugs We Have Known, research by a Japanese sci­en­tist study­ing tetanus was impor­tant in dis­cov­er­ing how to devel­op a vac­cine for diphtheria.

Another bac­te­r­i­al dis­ease that a vac­cine has brought under con­trol is Pertussis, or as it is usu­al­ly called, whoop­ing cough. Whooping cough is a high­ly con­ta­gious res­pi­ra­to­ry dis­ease.  You get uncon­trol­lable fits of bru­tal cough­ing which makes it hard to breathe. You have to take deep breaths that result in a “whoop­ing” sound. The cough­ing is some­times so vio­lent that you may break a rib or two.

Anyone can get the dis­ease and although it’s 100 days of mis­ery, most peo­ple don’t die. But it can kill chil­dren, espe­cial­ly babies, and often did so before the vac­cine was available.

A whoop­ing cough vac­cine is the most effec­tive way to pre­vent this dis­ease. However, no vac­cine is 100% effec­tive. If an out­break occurs in a fam­i­ly, school, or com­mu­ni­ty, there is a chance that a ful­ly vac­ci­nat­ed per­son, of any age, can pos­si­bly catch the dis­ease. Fortunately, if you received the vac­cine and still get sick, the infec­tion is usu­al­ly not as bad.

The same is true for our Covid vac­cine. A small per­cent­age of those vac­ci­nat­ed for Covid get sick enough to go to the hos­pi­tal. A very few even die. However, almost all of the 1,000 to 1,500 peo­ple who are still dying every day from Covid have not been vac­ci­nat­ed. It’s not until they are lay­ing on their death bed that their com­mon sense kicks in and they want the vac­cine. By then, it’s too late.

Although tetanus and whoop­ing cough do not usu­al­ly kill adults, peo­ple back in the 1940s (when the vac­cines first came out) were glad to take the vac­cine. Not only did it keep them from get­ting the dis­eases, it pro­tect­ed the entire com­mu­ni­ty, espe­cial­ly the chil­dren. They under­stood that when it comes to pub­lic health, we’re all in this togeth­er. They were not self­ish indi­vid­u­al­ists. They had com­pas­sion for their fel­low citizens.

In today’s Covid pan­dem­ic, too many peo­ple have lost that com­pas­sion. These folks believe that since Covid does not kill most peo­ple, then the odds are that it won’t kill them. They lis­ten to radio and tele­vi­sion per­son­al­i­ties who have turned a pub­lic health cri­sis into a polit­i­cal bat­tle. They believe it is their right to not get vac­ci­nat­ed. They believe it is their right to ignore the lead­ing doc­tors and sci­en­tists who have devel­oped a vac­cine that can stop this dis­ease. They believe they have the right to go wher­ev­er they want even though they could be spread­ing the dis­ease to oth­er peo­ple, some of whom will die.

They have will­ing­ly sur­ren­dered their com­mon sense. They choose to not respect the rights of those who got the vac­cine and are try­ing to end this ter­ri­ble pan­dem­ic. Even the death of 750,000 Americans does not change their minds.

We Americans put a high val­ue on our indi­vid­ual rights and this has served us well. However, with rights come respon­si­bil­i­ties. We don’t have the right to kill each oth­er. We do have the respon­si­bil­i­ty to pro­tect each other.

Use your com­mon sense. Get vaccinated.

  • David made scaled-down, tra­di­tion­al Appalachian musi­cal instru­ments for chil­dren. Thousands of ele­men­tary stu­dents from across the state enjoyed his hands-on Appalachian music and her­itage pro­gram. He also worked with folks from six coun­ties for the cre­ation of the Appalachian Heritage Monument—a world-class venue that would rebrand Eastern Kentucky in a pos­i­tive light. (Still work­ing on it.) David lives in Valeria, Wolfe County, Kentucky.

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