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Fact Check

Is It Time to Freak Out About MERS?

By June 8, 2015 3 Comments

Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome virus (MERS) is a nasty infection and one you definitely don’t want to get. A recent outbreak of Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome virus (MERS) in Korea has a lot of people on edge, and for good reason. But what are the chances that you, sitting at home in the United States and other countries where MERS is not active, will get MERS? What are the chances that it will spread like wildfire and make many people sick and kill even more? And is it really that deadly? Let’s take these questions one by one and separate fact from worry.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the signs and symptoms of MERS are fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Those symptoms sound similar to just about any upper respiratory tract infection, but complications from MERS include kidney failure and severe pneumonia. Partly due to these complications, between 30% and 40% of patients with MERS cases have died, which is a very high mortality rate. Currently there isn’t a specific treatment for MERS, much like a cold or a stomach bug, treatment is supportive (fluids, fever reducers, pain killers etc…). The high mortality rate is why public health agencies across the world are on high alert.

Good for us (bad for MERS) unlike the flu or the measles, it turns out MERS isn’t easy to catch.

The MERS virus is a variant of the corona virus, a virus that has many different strains and causes different kinds of respiratory and gastrointestinal diseases. You’ll sometimes see “MERS” written as “MERS-CoV,” with “CoV” meaning “coronavirus.” Because the MERS strain of coronavirus is relatively new to humans, scientists are still working on fully understanding how it is transmitted.

One thing is for sure, close contact between people leads to transmission. Close contact can include healthcare providers caring for people with MERS and not using appropriate personal protective equipment or infectious disease precautions. Some of these providers not using those precautions have been infected. Also, people hospitalized with MERS patients have been infected, suggesting that the virus is spread via aerosols (e.g. sneezes and coughs) or is airborne (e.g. through breathing the same air).

MERS-CoV Infographic copyI mentioned before that MERS has a mortality rate between 30% and 40% and the high hospital transmission rate may be over-inflating the virus’ actual mortality rate. People who are already in the hospital for another illness or condition and contract MERS are likely to have more complications and worse outcomes (and a higher mortality rate).

Because MERS is so new (and until now has been relatively contained) disease surveillance systems have been only picking up cases that are hospitalized. It will likely take a while before systems are in place to detect sub-clinical cases (i.e. cases who don’t become sick enough to seek hospital care).

With that said, you may remember the H1N1 pandemic several years ago. In the US alone, thousands of people became so sick they sought care from their doctors and hospitals. We aren’t seeing this with MERS, which tells us that MERS is either a mild virus in those who are otherwise healthy or isn’t easily transmitted at the community level.

According to the Korean Ministry of Health, the first person identified in the current outbreak (what we call in public health the index case) was reported as having traveled recently to the Middle East. Seven days after his arrival, the index case sought care at different healthcare facilities in Korea, likely spreading the virus in those settings.

Taking all of this into consideration, it is very possible that MERS could spread to other parts of the world past Korea, in fact, there have already been cases in the United States. These cases in the US were unconnected and over 500 people were potentially exposed, but no one contracted the virus outside of the index cases.

We live in a world where a jet can depart the Middle East and be in any part of the world in a matter of hours. Combine that with the incubation time (time for symptoms to develop from the initial exposure) that MERS is displaying of about 2 to 14 days, and you could have plenty of cases popping up all over the globe.

So what is keeping that from happening?

First, it seems that exposure to camels or camel products (like milk) were the primary source of MERS infections in the Middle East. Second, modern healthcare facilities have strict infection control protocols that may be keeping infections from occurring within them. Third, as I mentioned above, the person-to-person transmission in the community – outside of healthcare facilities – seems to be limited.

In the United States, between 3,000 and 49,000 people die from influenza each year. Half a million of us die from smoking-related diseases like lung cancer, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Another half a million will die from heart disease associated with poor diet and lack of physical activity. And over 30,000 will die from traffic-related accidents. At this time and in the United States, MERS is on our public health radar, but in your day-to-day life it should be your least concern.

The best things you can do for your health (and others) are to wash your hands, eat a balanced diet, wash your hands, get plenty of exercise and plenty of rest, wash your hands, and follow your healthcare providers advice at all times, buckle-up in the car, and wash your hands. Also, don’t forget to wash your hands.

Edited by Leslie Waghorn


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Categories: Infectious Disease + Vaccines, Policy, Politics, + Pop Health

The Other Side of Sexual Abuse Claims: Voices of Former Victims Continued…

By and May 28, 2015 4 Comments

In this post, we posted several anonymous quotes from former victims of sexual abuse and assault, in response to the Josh Duggar story about childhood sexual abuse among children and teenagers. Here at The Scientific Parent, we strive to be empower parents and children to live their best lives, drawing on what we can factually point to as evidence. We were very surprised to hear the level of detail and recall many of our contributors had of their experiences, given how young some of them were at the times. It gave us a lot to think about as writers, public health nerds, child advocates, and people existing in this sometimes chaotic world. By midnight, the stories continued to roll in, so we chose to run several more today in this post.

The narratives we received that we chose to publish here (and some that we did not), were often gut-wrenching to read. But one thing became abundantly clear: most individuals did not want to be called victims or survivors. Why is that? We found it’s because they don’t relate to themselves by the crimes that happened against them. They are thrivers. In the face of adversity, these men and women have learned to set aside terrible experiences as just that. A terrible experience that is not a part of who they are, but something that happened to them. They are former victims.

We applaud you all.

For that and so much more, a huge thank you to all of you who reached out to contribute to these posts with their stories and experiences, and our deepest gratitude to anyone who considered doing so and didn’t for various reasons. You’re a brave lot, and we commend and honor you for your courage, authentic vulnerability, and commitment to empowering others who may be going through the same things.

Today’s stories below:

Victims are expected to “forgive and forget” and “move on,” but you never really do – you are forever changed. With many things I experienced in life, especially sexual developments and relationships – I always wonder – how would this be different if that didn’t happen to me?  As a very young victim (ages 4 -5) your mind has a way of locking things away to protect itself. Major life events – such as being involved in anti-rape rallies in college, and and having children even,  have unlocked some of those mental boxes – and it’s tough, and very real. To this renewed pain –  people say, but “that was 30 years ago”, “you are living in the past”,  “you hold grudges.” As a parent, my extended family thinks I’m overbearing, too protective of my children especially at family gatherings. But it was this same extended family that let this happen to me at family gatherings all those years ago. I feel that it is victims, not the perpetrators that are constantly judged. Judged on how they handle it, forgive, cope. But the perpetrator – no one tells him he’s living in the past. He has daughters! He was young like Josh Dugger, but his family denied it, so no one got help. My parents were the only ones who pressed charges. I got to “point to the doll” at the police station. But I was also told I couldn’t talk about it, making it my dirty secret from age 5. It divided my family. No one talks, and no one knows why.

When I was two and a half, my grandfather exposed himself and had me ”interact ” with his… well, anyway. I have no memories of this, at all, I’ve gotten the info third hand from therapists who also worked w my parents. I’ve been in therapy since I was 7, have a deep distrust of men, and hate to be touched, even by my husband sometimes. You don’t have to remember to be broken.

He brought me over to the side of the house and made me give him a blow job. I was like, 6? He was like, 8 or 9? He threatened that he’d stab me with his pocket knife if I didn’t. It didn’t really dawn on me that it was a big deal at the time. I told my mom and she just kind of brushed it off and told me I shouldn’t go with him beside the house any more. His parents were messed up. They weren’t around, so he lived with his grandparents who lived two doors away from me. I remember i started, and his penis was gross, so I ran away. I don’t really feel it’s impacted me… I honestly probably wouldn’t have remembered it but for the fact it happened to two of my friends too and we talked about it. He independently at different times did the same thing to two other girls. He was probably victimized himself by someone. Or at least exposed to wildly age inappropriate stuff.

I was molested three different times as a boy: at summer church camp when I was about 9; by an older cousin when I was about 11; and by a “friend of my parents” when I was 17. Each of these occurred over a period of time, none was a single event. I disclosed none of these to my parents or anyone close to me at the time until the last one. I am now 50-something. These acts against me have affected me in different ways at different times in my life.

When it first happened at camp, I just wanted to make myself hide, I just wanted to forget about it. I wanted to go on and enjoy camp and enjoy my life the way it had been…but I felt different. I felt embarrassed. I felt like I had let down my parents who had told me not to let anyone touch me “down there.” But I think I forgot about it…until the next occurrence, with my cousin. I felt so many things then: shock, betrayal, numbness, sick to my stomach. I begin to wonder, “What was it about me?” that this had happened again. After the “family friend,” I felt major betrayal. I developed a deep distrust of older men. If someone older acted in a friendly manner toward me, I wondered what they were up to…and I found myself thinking how would I respond if they tried to touch me? And I really, really, really wondered, “What is wrong with me? Why me? Why again? Will this always keep happening to me?” I felt powerless. I was confused about my sexuality, too.

The saving grace was that I told my parents this time. And they reacted wonderfully! They reacted just the way I had always dreamed they would—if they had known about the other times. They were incredibly supportive and nurturing of me. They confronted the person who was molesting me. And it stopped! I think the way they reacted worked backward in time to begin healing the other occurrences. When I was in my mid-twenties, I sought out a therapist. It wasn’t because of the molestations on the face of it, but I disclosed those and a huge amount of healing took place then. I have entered therapy several times over the years, never about the molestations specifically, but they always come up. They are part of my life’s story—but they don’t define me.

So, what about me as an adult? In large part, I know these acts against me happened, but they just don’t have power over me, now. I think this is because of my parent’s support, the therapy I had, and because I had a lot of positive male role models. When I hear or read about an allegation of sexual abuse against a kid several things happen: I always think, “Oh no, not again. Will this never stop?” I want the alleged perpetrator to face justice, but I also feel for them and wonder how they came to molest someone, and want them to get help. Sometimes, my own experiences come back very vividly and I feel angry or depressed—other times I think about them and it is more like, “Yea, happened to me, too,” and I move own. Always, always my heart goes out to the person who was assaulted, and I want them to know they can heal from what happened.

And how else did all this affect me? I became a human sexuality counselor and educator. I received a MSW and I have counseled both victims and perpetrators. I was involved in setting up a treatment program in my state for adolescents convicted of sexual offenses. And I try to be a positive, healthy role model to all the kids in my life, so that they can feel strong and confident and secure, and have as much power as possible to say no, to fight back and to have a lovely, happy childhood without trauma.


As we said in the previous post, if you or anyone you know has been the victim of sexual assault or abuse, remember, there are number of resources to assist you. In the United States, RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network) will put you in touch with local resources, plus you connect with certified specialists on their anonymous hotlines: call 1-800-656-HOPE, or click on the RAINN Online Hotline to speak to someone online. In Canada kids and teens can call The Kids Help Phone, toll-free 24 hours a day at 1-800-668-6868.




DART Center for Journalism and Trauma. Reporting on Sexual Violence.  Columbia School of Journalism. July 15, 2011. Retrieved May 26, 2015.

RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network). RAINN Online Hotline.

The Kids Help Phone

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Categories: Accidents, Injuries, + Abuse, Mental, Emotional, + Behavioral Health

The Other Side of the Josh Duggar Sexual Abuse Claims: Voices of Former Victims

By and May 27, 2015 3 Comments

 In this post, we said we were going to talk about the impact of Josh Duggar’s alleged offenses on his victims, and we are, but we’re not going to talk about his specific victims.  An important consequence of the release of the 12-year-old police report is the revictimization of the people Josh molested, specifically his sisters who are easily identifiable from the police report.  We feel strongly that they and others have the right to privacy and we’re saddened that they have been so easily identified and revictimized through the release of the police report.

While we feel strongly about their right to privacy, we also feel that the victims of sexual abuse need and deserve a voice. We can talk in generalities about how sexual abuse and assault impacts the abused, but these impacts vary widely based on the individual, their age at the time of the abuse, the type and duration of the abuse/assaults, their support network, and treatments received.  Writing about the victims of sexual abuse in generalities would do an injustice to the nuanced nature of their experiences.

After that post went live, over the course of 24 hours we heard from a number of readers who wanted to share how sexual abuse had affected their lives. Julia and I also heard from a number of our friends who wanted to tell us about the abuse they experienced in their youth.  It has made us realize that everybody knows somebody who has experienced sexual abuse, you just may not know who they are right now.

Five of those who wrote in have agreed to anonymously share how the abuse they experienced has affected their lives as adults, to help give a voice to those who may be suffering in silence:

“I was very young, but it was obviously very confusing and detrimental to my emotional state and I was also suicidal by the time I was 11. I was not a confident young woman and eventually at the age of 25 left my hometown with the major goal of finally getting a handle on my life. I relay my story whenever someone tells me they were raped or sexually abused. Sadly, about once a year. I think it’s a surprise to most folks that I was also abused and I tell them so they know they aren’t alone. So they know it doesn’t define them as a person, that it is their choice and within their power to make their life decisions. The experience can make a person feel as though they can’t control anything in life, which can spiral into a wasted life when decisions are made for them. Once I decided I wasn’t a victim and being molested would not define me, I took action. And once I took action, I realized the hardest part was already behind me. It was very liberating to understand how resilient I am. I am also a more compassionate person given my history. I feel that everyone has a sad story, we should be kind to each other. Human to human.”

“As a 40+ year survivor of multiple sexual abusers … my life has been irreparably altered. Cumulatively all this trauma, (plus other life experience) has destroyed my natural responses to typical events.  Hard truth: I will never see the world without the combined lens of betrayal, loss of childhood innocence, physically damaging sexual experiences, and unrelenting terror.  However,  despite those layers of horror, and with full understanding that I am a product of my history, I wholeheartedly refuse to be a victim to it.”

“I get angry about this stuff [sexual abuse in the news] easily now. I wasn’t taken seriously when it happened to me so I feel like I over compensate and be super outspoken when something like [the allegations against Josh Duggar] hit the news. I feel like people still don’t understand it and it makes me so mad because it’s like it’s happening all over again. People don’t realize how much language matters to people like me, I literally had the same thing happen to me [as the allegations against Josh Duggar] and when people say he was “just experimenting” what does that make me some kind of lab rat or plant or something? How [messed] up is that?”

“Honestly,  I don’t feel that it affects me in any way at this point in my life except in two ways.  I don’t like strangers touching me which I think is also pretty standard.  The other thing is I am trying to be hyper aware and proactive with my own children because I know how easily and often it happens and goes undisclosed and unpunished.  For some reason, with [my son], I’ve made a point from an early age to call his anatomy what it is.  He knows were his penis is.  I tell him that only mommy, daddy, and grandmas should touch him.”  

“Being raped left me feeling less worthy of help and understanding than others, as though someone else’s decision to assault my body at will was somehow more my fault than theirs. The amount of scrutiny I faced and still face about how it happened and if I misunderstood the violent act against me still surprises me. Though I have worked through it, truly the worst thing I have had to deal with in recovery is not the rape. It’s the judgement and blame that comes laced around every supportive statement from family and friends. That’s what keeps many of us silent – because we often really need to talk about it with those who love us most. Unfortunately some of those very same people are so upset with the entire experience we’ve gone through that they inadvertently deflect the discomfort back on us. I was only a victim in those moments, I am not one now. But the language people use to describe me, it, all of it, that’s what creates a constant revictimization”

If you or anyone you know has been the victim of sexual assault or abuse, remember, there are number of resources to assist you. In the United States, RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network) will put you in touch with local resources, plus you can call or message with certified specialists on their anonymous hotlines:you can call 1-800-656-HOPE, or click on the RAINN Online Hotline. In Canada kids and teens can call The Kids Help Phone, toll-free 24 hours a day at 1-800-668-6868.


NOTE: At time of publication (11pm 5/26/15) we were still receiving stories from the former victims of childhood sexual abuse for inclusion on this post.  Due to the number of survivors who want to share their stories, we will dedicate Thursday’s post to the former victims of child sexual abuse as well.



DART Center for Journalism and Trauma. Reporting on Sexual Violence.  Columbia School of Journalism. July 15, 2011. Retrieved May 26, 2015.

RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network). RAINN Online Hotline.

The Kids Help Phone

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Categories: Accidents, Injuries, + Abuse, Mental, Emotional, + Behavioral Health

Do the Allegations Against Josh Duggar Constitute Sexual Crimes or “Boys Being Boys”?

By May 26, 2015 7 Comments

*Please note – this analysis was written prior to the recent discovery that Josh Duggar was exposed in the so-called Ashley Madison hack scandal.

In mid-May, news broke that the oldest of the Duggar siblings (of TLC’s 19 Kids and Counting fame), Josh, had been accused of sexually assaulting five girls when he was 14 years old, four of which were his younger sisters. The internet has been rife with finger-pointing and side-choosing in the wake of the news, dug up from old police reports recently made public. Some have been quick to condemn the eldest Duggar as a sexual predator, while others feel he is being wrongly persecuted for youthful indiscretions.

The allegations against Josh Duggar are difficult for most to understand in isolation because they are layered with our own beliefs about gender norms (“boys will be boys”) and religion (“hypocrites!”). We think that based on the police report, neither side is wholly right in their judgment of the situation, and science has a lot to say about what happened, and whether it was “normal” or not.  In this post, as much as possible, I want to look at the facts and just the facts and remove the layers of politics and religion from the story.

Let’s lay out the facts as we know them from the police report released by the Springdale, Arkansas police department:

  • Josh was 14 when the alleged incidents began, and authorities identified his known victims as ranging in age from 5-11 years at the time.
  • Police say four of his victims were his younger sisters. Most were sleeping at the time Josh was alleged to have fondled their breasts and genitals. One incident allegedly happened when he was reading to one of his sisters. The other alleged incident involved a babysitter who likely would have been older than Josh at the time (also said to have occurred while she was sleeping).
  • Reports say that after the second or third incident Josh’s parents made him confess his sins in front of his church and sent him away for several months to help a family friend with construction; it does not appear he received counseling at this time.
  • Upon his return, reports say that his parents welcomed him back into the house, but it is unclear if any conditions were set or if he was being more closely monitored.

First, regardless of gender, it is natural and normal for teens and tweens to be sexually curious, as uncomfortable as that often makes their parents. It’s also normal for kids this age to be interested in their own bodies and the bodies of the opposite gender. There’s also nothing abnormal with masturbation or consensual kissing and sexual touching at this age.

What is abnormal is to exercise that curiosity when the other party is either unable or does not consent to sexual play. In Josh’s case, his sisters were all sleeping when he allegedly fondled their breasts and genitals (with the exception of one incident).  Obviously, as they were asleep they could not consent to sexual play.  This is the part that concerns me, and that the scientific literature doesn’t support as being “normal.”


Recent image of Josh Duggar, c/o

What also sticks out is that Josh’s victims weren’t his peers, there were significant age gaps (he was older)  in all but the babysitter. His oldest sister was 12 at the time of the assaults and she reports that Josh never touched her inappropriately. This is where we see another level of predatory behavior happening. It’s common for predators to choose victims they feel they can safely control and this often means younger children. In this sense, Josh fits into the bell curve of most teenage sexual abusers.

So now that we’ve established Josh’s reported behavior towards his sisters fits the clinical description of sexual assault, what about how his parents handled the situation?  The police report makes clear that while Josh was sent away for three months, he did not receive clinical counseling at this time.  This is important as a psychological evaluation and psychotherapy, specifically Multisystemic Therapy, are effective at reducing recidivism rates among juvenile sexual offenders.

Jim-Bob and Michelle’s decision to let him back into the house has also been controversial among many and we understand why. Many parents empathize with the Duggar’s situation: their son, the predator, was a minor, as were their daughters, the victims. Were Josh’s parents between a rock and hard place?  Did they have to choose between their son’s future and the safety of their daughters?  The research says that with the proper intervention and careful supervision, certain juvenile sex offenders can return to live in the same family home as their victims.  But, again, it’s unclear if any conditions were placed on Josh when he returned home and we know that at the time of the incidents he did not receive the standard of care.

What I do want to take off the table here is the idea that because Josh was a minor at the time the incidents happened, that it somehow makes the sexual assaults less “real.” Minors (those under the age of 18) can and do commit sexual crimes, in fact they account for 35% of known sexual crimes. His age may make him less culpable in regards to legal consequences, but it doesn’t mean the experience was less real for his victims.

While it is clear from the police report that Josh was likely of low-risk to reoffend with the proper intervention, it also doesn’t appear he received any form of formal, psychological treatment. According to reports, the Duggars initially told police that Josh had been sent to a treatment center, but the parents later admitted to police that he was sent away to help a family friend on a construction site.

While what Josh did to his sisters 12 years ago fits the profile of sexual abuse and we know that his parents didn’t seek the standard of care for him, does that make him currently at risk to sexually abuse again? The research says, maybe, maybe not. Minors that commit sex offenses, have a sexual offense recidivism rate of 7-13% as adults compared to 5-24% of those that offend as adults.* Statistically speaking, if there hasn’t been an incident in the last 12 years, it’s more likely that he won’t reoffend.

Tomorrow, we discuss the impact Josh’s actions may have had on his victims (Editor’s note – those articles can be found here and here).

*Note: it is extremely difficult to accurately measure re-offense and recidivism rates for sexual offenders.



Tulloch, T. and Kaufman, M. Adolescent Sexuality. Pediatrics in Review. Vol. 34 No. 1 January 1, 2013
pp. 29 -38.

National Center on Sexual Behavior of Youth. Children with Sexual Behavior Problems: Common Misconceptions vs. Current Findings. American Academy of Pediatrics. No 2. 2003.

Sexual Abuse Committee of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network. Understanding and Coping with Sexual Behavior Problems in Children – Information for Parents and Caregivers. April 2009.

Finkelhor, D., Ormrod, R. and Chaffin, M. Juveniles Who Commit Sex Offenses Against Minors. U.S. Department of Justice | Office of Justice Programs | Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Programs. December 2009.

Lobanov-Rostovsky, C. Chapter 3: Recidivism of Juveniles Who Commit Sexual Offenses.   Sex Offender Management Assessment and Planning Initiative. U.S. Department of Justice | Office of Justice Programs | Retrieved May 25, 2015.

Przybylski, R. Chapter 5: Adult Sex Offender Recidivism. Sex Offender Management Assessment and Planning Initiative. U.S. Department of Justice | Office of Justice Programs | Retrieved May 25, 2015.

Center for Sex Offender Management. Key Considerations for Reunifying Adult Sex Offenders and their Families. U.S. Department of Justice | Office of Justice Programs. December 2005.

Righthand, S. Juvenile Sex Offense Specific Treatment Needs & Progress Scale and Guide. National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges. 2005.


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Categories: Accidents, Injuries, + Abuse, Mental, Emotional, + Behavioral Health

With 7 Kids in Recovery from Whooping Cough, Tara Hills Answers Your Questions

By and April 15, 2015 12 Comments
Tara Hills Luke

Tara cuddling with her recovering 10 month old.

When I wrote our story last week, I had no idea our story would go ‘viral’ (no pun intended).  We are a private family, as most homeschooling families are, so we thought that maybe a few people in our community would see it.  We never imagined that our story would travel around the globe.  As encouraged as we are to hear about the positive impact our decision to share it has had on many others, it has also been hard handling a real medical crisis in the face of intense global media and public scrutiny. Last Tuesday, when the positive test results came in 4 days late, the waves of chaos hit us with a fury that we can’t possibly describe. Everything that day was a blur, from me editing my original post to include our diagnosis, to the reality of dealing with 7 active cases of pertussis.  

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Categories: Infectious Disease + Vaccines, Policy, Politics, + Pop Health

Whooping Cough is so Rotten, That We Couldn’t Post the Video

By and April 9, 2015 9 Comments


We posted this video to our Facebook page, an interview on CBC of Tara Hills, the mother of seven children in quarantine with whooping cough. She spoke to the CBC Ottawa news affiliate shortly after her story on our page went viral.

Later on Wednesday evening, Tara followed up with us by sending us several videos of her children suffering from the classic “whoop” that pertussis is so infamous for, and we have to admit, readers, it was a tough (if not horrifying) watch. We appreciate Tara’s raw and open approach to sharing the perils of not vaccinating children against deadly illnesses and her desire to help parents in her community recognize the symptoms.

However, we decided it was too much to show in the best interest of the children involved. Their health outcomes are unknown at this time, but we’re hoping for the best for them and we know they’re getting the best care possible.

So instead, we’d like to bring you an edited audio file of the sounds of some, but not all of her children, so you can get a better understanding of the impact of this type of illness  – and why vaccinations are so very important to prevent suffering.

For more information on whooping cough, visit or talk to your health care provider.

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Categories: Infectious Disease + Vaccines, Policy, Politics, + Pop Health

Learning the Hard Way: My Journey from #AntiVaxx to Science

By April 8, 2015 158 Comments

I’m writing this from quarantine, the irony of which isn’t lost on me.

Emotionally I’m a bit raw. Mentally a bit taxed. Physically I’m fine.  All seven of my unvaccinated children have whooping cough, and the kicker is that they may have given it to my five month old niece, too young to be fully vaccinated.

We’d had a games night at our house in March, my brother-in-law had a full-blown cold, so when the kids started with a dry cough a few days later I didn’t think much of it.  But a week after the symptoms started the kids weren’t improving, in fact they were getting worse.  And the cough. No one had a runny nose or sneezing but they all had the same unproductive cough.  Between coughing fits they were fine.

Then a few days later at midnight I snapped. My youngest three children were coughing so hard they would gag or vomit. I’d never seen anything like this before.  Watching our youngest struggle with this choking cough, bringing up clear, stringy mucus – I had heard of this before somewhere.  My mom said I had it when I was a kid. I snapped into ‘something is WRONG’ mode.

I jumped on Google to type in “child cough.” My kids had all but one symptom of pertussis, none of them had the characteristic “whoop.” But they had everything else.

We had vaccinated our first three children on an alternative schedule and our youngest four weren’t vaccinated at all.  We stopped because we were scared and didn’t know who to trust.  Was the medical community just paid off puppets of a Big Pharma-Government-Media conspiracy?  Were these vaccines even necessary in this day and age? Were we unwittingly doing greater harm than help to our beloved children? So much smoke must mean a fire so we defaulted to the ‘do nothing and hope nothing bad happens’ position.

Symptoms and timeline of pertussis (whooping cough)

Learn the signs of pertussis (whooping cough). Click to enlarge.

For years relatives tried to persuade us to reconsider through emails and links, but this only irritated us and made us defensive.  Secretly, I hoped I would find the proof I needed to hold the course, but deep down I was resigned to only find endless conflicting arguments that never resolved anything.  No matter if we vaccinated or not, I thought, it would be nothing more than a coin toss with horrible risks either way.

When the Disneyland measles outbreak happened my husband and I agreed to take a new look and weigh the evidence on both sides. A friend suggested I write out my questions so we could tackle them one by one.  Just getting it out on paper helped so much. I only ended up with a handful of questions. But more potent than my questions were my biases.

I just didn’t trust civic government, the medical community, the pharmaceutical industry, and people in general.  By default, I had excluded all research available from any major, reputable organization.  Could all the in-house, independent, peer-reviewed clinical trials, research papers and studies across the globe ALL be flawed, corrupt and untrustworthy?

The final shift came when I connected the dots between a small, but real measles outbreak in my personal circles this time last year.  But for the grace of God, our family was one step from contracting measles in our mostly under-or-unvaccinated 7 kids.  Maybe we could have weathered that storm unscathed in personal quarantine.  But in the 4 highly contagious days before any symptoms show we easily could have passed on our infection to my sister’s toddlers or her 34-week-old son in the NICU.

When I connected the dates for everyone involved it chilled me to the bone.  I looked again at the science and evidence for community immunity and found myself gripped with a very real sense of personal and social responsibility before God and man.  The time had come to make a more fully informed decision than we did 6 years ago.  I sat down with our family doctor and we put together a catch-up vaccination schedule for our children.

That schedule that was supposed to start the week after I found myself in the waiting room of the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) with my 10-month-old son, waiting to confirm if he had whooping cough.

I said before that the irony isn’t lost on me that I’m writing this from quarantine.  For six years we were frozen in fear from vaccines, and now we are frozen because of the disease.  My oldest two are getting better, the youngest four are getting worse and fast.  Ottawa Public Health has been so helpful and communicative, trying to get us the help we need while keeping the community safe.  We are under quarantine and starting antibiotics.  Tonight, the baby started ‘whooping’.  I did the right thing going to the hospital when I did.  I can only hope this painfully honest sharing will help others.

I am not looking forward to any gloating or shame as this ‘defection’ from the antivaxx camp goes public, but, this isn’t a popularity contest.  Right now my family is living the consequences of misinformation and fear.  I understand that families in our community may be mad at us for putting their kids at risk.  I want them to know that we tried our best to protect our kids when we were afraid of vaccination and we are doing our best now, for everyone’s sake, by getting them up to date.  We can’t take it back … but we can learn from this and help others the same way we have been helped.

Vaccination is a serious decision about our personal and public health that can’t be made out of fear, capitulation or following any crowd.  No one was more surprised than us to find solid answers that actually laid our fears to rest.  I am confident that anyone with questions can find answers.  I would only advise them to check your biases, sources and calendar: Time waits for no parent.

Read more about Tara’s story:
Whooping Cough is so Rotten, That We Couldn’t Post the Video – April 9, 2015
With 7 Kids in Recovery from Whooping Cough, Tara Hills Answers Your Questions – April 15, 2015
Two Months After Whooping Cough: An Update from Tara Hills and Her Family – June 16, 2015


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Categories: Infectious Disease + Vaccines, Policy, Politics, + Pop Health