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Bout with whooping cough comes with warning: It could happen to you
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Two weeks ago I became a statistic. I was one of the over 6,700 cases of whooping cough reported in California for 2010 - the most cases reported in 63 years.

I was actually surprised when my doctor ordered a chest x-ray and said she thought I had whooping cough. Despite the ongoing coverage of the whooping cough epidemic, I never thought it would hit me. I don't know why. I am not an especially healthy person. I get my fair share of colds, coughs and runny noses.

However, this is the first time that a disease epidemic has affected me personally. Over the past few years, the Journal has reported on the spread of whooping cough, H1N1, avian flu and West Nile Virus. Every time we publish a story on a disease, I think how scary it must be to be struck down by the smallest of organisms during an "epidemic." Just the word epidemic is scary. Getting sick while "the flu is going around" is a lot different than contracting H1N1 during an epidemic.

While I was laid out on my couch last week - wishing the coughing would just stop - I thought about the influenza pandemic of 1918. An estimated 675,000 Americans - and 21.5 million people worldwide - died of the flu from March 1918 to January 1919. According to the U.S. Department of Health, more Americans died from influenza than died in World War I.

Whole towns were basically shut down during the epidemic and even doctors were demoralized by its destructive nature. A physician stationed at Fort Devens outside Boston in September 1918 recorded the following observation:

"This epidemic started about four weeks ago, and has developed so rapidly that the camp is demoralized and all ordinary work is held up till it has passed....These men start with what appears to be an ordinary attack of LaGrippe or Influenza, and when brought to the Hosp. they very rapidly develop the most viscous type of Pneumonia that has ever been seen. Two hours after admission they have the Mahogany spots over the cheek bones, and a few hours later you can begin to see the Cyanosis extending from their ears and spreading all over the face, until it is hard to distinguish the colored men from the white. It is only a matter of a few hours then until death comes, and it is simply a struggle for air until they suffocate. It is horrible. One can stand it to see one, two or twenty men die, but to see these poor devils dropping like flies sort of gets on your nerves. We have been averaging about 100 deaths per day, and still keeping it up."

During November and December 1918, there were daily efforts to curb the spread of the disease and treat those affected. Emergency hospitals were opened by the Red Cross in places like churches to treat those infected. Schools were closed for weeks and other social gatherings were canceled. Some city councils ordered the arrest of all persons found without a facemask on and appointed special policemen to enforce the order.

While there has not been an enforced facemask ordinance in my lifetime, recent epidemics harken to a time when public health was a major concern for each and every member of the community. They also highlight the need for everyone to work together for the common good in order for a community to survive and thrive.

During this flu - and whooping cough - season, I urge everyone to take care of your health. Get immunized. Eat right, get enough sleep, and cover your cough. Good health and hygiene is not just for your own good, but for the community's sake.