This is one of the scariest graphs I’ve seen in a long time.
This plot, from the CDC, shows probable and confirmed cases of pertussis – whooping cough – in the state of Washington from 2011 through June 2012. Last year’s numbers are the short, light-blue-grey rectangles, and this year’s are the dark blue. The plot is by week, so you can see the 2011 numbers slowly growing across the year; then this year’s numbers suddenly taking a huge leap upward. They are reporting the new rate as 13 times larger than last year. Note that 83% of these cases have been confirmed as being pertussis, while 17% are probable. The drop in recent weeks is due to a lag in complete reporting of cases.
Got that? There are 13 times as many people – more than 2500 in total so far – getting pertussis right now as there were last year at this time in Washington.
Some of this increase may be attributable to the pertussis bacterium growing a resistance to the vaccine and booster. However, it’s curious that Washington state has seen such a large jump; the incidence of pertussis overall in that state is nine times higher than the national average.
Why would this be? Well, it so happens that the antivax movement is quite strong in Washington state, and it also so happens that parents are choosing not to vaccinate their children in higher numbers there than the rest of the nation.
There may be other factors, but it’s clear that people who don’t vaccinate are at least partially to blame for this. Maybe it’s due to religious reasons, or the large number of antivaxxers who still blame autism on vaccines, when we know for sure that’s not the case. Either way, when vaccine rates get too low, herd immunity is compromised, and we see more pertussis cases, even among those who are vaccinated.
Pertussis is a terrible, terrible disease. It puts infants at grave risk of dying, and eight infants so far this year have been killed by pertussis in the US. Even if it doesn’t kill them, it’s a horrible thing to put them through.
Vaccines save lives. Talk to your board-certified doctor and find out if you need one, or a booster. I did, and my whole family is up-to-date with their vaccinations. I refuse to be a part of spreading a disease that can kill anyone, let alone babies, and I refuse to be silent about it.
I do a roughly monthly segment with astronomer Seth Shostak on Big Picture Science, a radio show/podcast done by The SETI Institute. This month, Seth and I talked about the American Airlines dustup when they were planning to run an interview with reality-impaired antivaxxer Meryl Dorey. This story is a great victory for reality, and I’ve already written about the back story.
Never forget: this antivax issue is more than important: it is literally life and death. Because of lowering vaccine rates, pertussis outbreaks are so prevalent health officials in the state of Washington have declared it to be an epidemic. The governor has had to dip into emergency funds to the tune of $90,000 to finance an information campaign to get the word out.
But the money is secondary to the idea that babies and people with immune deficiencies are at risk of dying from a disease that is essentially totally preventable if everyone got their vaccinations and boosters.
I cannot state that any more simply. The antivax crowd says vaccines cause autism, vaccines cause neurological problems, vaccines hurt your immune system. None of that is true. The real danger is when people believe the antivax propaganda. Infants too young to be vaccinated themselves rely on herd immunity — if enough people are vaccinated the disease has no place to live. And when we as a community don’t vaccinate, people get sick, and some people — including those infants, usually just a few weeks old — die.
Talk to your board-certified doctor, and if they say it’s OK, get vaccinated. You may save more than one life doing so.
Whenever I mention UFOs on the blog, I get a fair number of rabid comments calling me names, attacking me on small details while ignoring the big picture, and so on. Most of these come because of a simple statement I need to repeat often: astronomers report very few if any UFOs because for the most part, we understand what we’re seeing in the sky.
When we see a satellites, a glint off a distant airplane, birds, astronomical objects, lightning, or meteors, we can generally identify them and don’t need to call the police or the newspapers. The vast majority of people out there, however, are not familiar with the sky, and so when they see these things they can (understandably) freak out a little. That includes sightings of Venus and the Moon.
And now the king of the planets can join that list: via Fark comes the news that residents of Washington state have been calling the police to report a UFO low in the east after sunset. And that UFO has turned out to be none other than the planet Jupiter.
I’m not surprised. Jupiter is very bright and obvious in the sky right now. Since it’s getting dark earlier, people are outside when they’re not quite used to it being dark yet. And since Jupiter is rising at sunset, it’s low in the sky; people driving will see it through the window and think it’s following them. And it’s very, very common for people to think a bright object is actually a big object.
It’s a perfect confluence of events to promote UFO sightings. I should’ve seen it coming!
But there’s some good to come of this. For one, it means people are in fact going outside and looking up. That alone makes me happy. Also, these folks find out they’re looking at Jupiter, when maybe they didn’t even know they could see a planet at all (though I bet a few won’t believe the cops or papers). And the best part? The article about the Jupiter UFO reports gives some basic info about Jupiter, too. That’s great! Kudos to the Peninsula Daily News for taking this chance to get a little astronomical coolness out there to its readers.