It seemed as if they would never stop coughing.
The endless, racking, barking coughs, followed by long, desperate gasps for breath, felt as if they would never end. First our son, then my wife and our daughter, went through days of sleepless agony with a condition that started out with the look and feel of a bad cold, but was later—far too late—diagnosed as whooping cough, also known as pertussis.
I had a milder case. All I did was cough so badly that my back went severely out of alignment for two weeks. But in some ways, that was worse. I was healthy enough to run errands, drive everyone else to emergency room visits, and go on site for a local conference, never realizing that I was carrying—and perhaps spreading—a highly contagious disease.
We’re fairly certain we were exposed to the illness at a large public gathering we attended in mid-September. Pertussis is well controlled by immunization, but there have been recent outbreaks in New Zealand, Australia, and the U.S. In 2010, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 9,143 cases in California (which included 10 infant deaths), the largest annual count since 1947.
All of which has me desperately worried about that meeting I covered in early October. The writers’ table was in a corner of the room, and my cough had mostly subsided, but I wouldn’t have gone if I’d known what I was carrying.
With the annual flu season almost upon us, it’s just a matter of time before large public gatherings, including meetings and events, become part of an extended ground zero in the effort to keep everyone—our family, friends, colleagues, and participants—healthy and safe.
Like many crises, this one brought me back to some simple truths.
- It’s time for everyone to make sure their vaccinations are up to date. All of us. (That means you.)
- This is the right time of year to encourage participants to get their flu shots before they travel, or set up a flu clinic while you’re on site.
- Meetings depend on immunization and other public health measures in ways we scarcely notice until something goes wrong. The next time your city, county, or state cuts its public health budget, speak up as if your livelihood depended on it. It does.
Mitchell Beer, CMM, is president of The Conference Publishers Inc., Ottawa, one of the world’s leading specialists in capturing and repurposing conference content. Beer blogs at http://theconferencepublishers.com/blog and tweets as @mitchellbeer.