I almost died because someone else's child wasn't vaccinated

I almost choked to death… and all because someone else’s child wasn’t vaccinated: Mother-of-two, 40, urges parents to get their children inoculated after she nearly died from mumps

This time last year, I almost died. 

I was struck down by a terrifying illness that left my face so swollen and disfigured I was minutes away from choking to death. 

Doctors deemed me a public health risk and ordered me to stay at home so I couldn’t infect anyone else.

What was this dire disease? Something unknown or unpreventable? No. It was mumps.

Emily, pictured before she fell ill with mumps last year, which can leave you deaf, infertile and wholly unable to lead the life you were living. For some, it proves fatal

The disease was diagnosed when, after a week of flu-like symptoms, my glands suddenly swelled to gargantuan proportions.

I was in shock. Not having heard of anyone catching mumps since I was small, I believed it was a childhood condition long since eradicated. Yet at the age of 40, I had caught it.

Why? It was because, thanks to those who hold misguided anti-MMR beliefs, mumps is enjoying a dangerous revival.

Even though the claim that the MMR vaccines ’cause’ autism has been disproved time and again, a noisy minority of anti-vaxxers still repeat the lie to persuade vulnerable parents not to give their children life-saving medicines that have been scientifically shown to work.

First created in the 1970s and introduced in the UK in 1988, the MMR vaccine wasn’t available when I was a child. 

At the age of four, I’d contracted a virus that my parents and GP wrongly assumed was mumps, so I was never offered the single vaccine — though I made sure my own children, aged four and six, were vaccinated.

So, my GP concluded, I’d probably been infected three weeks before, on a family trip to a holiday park on the South Coast, after crossing paths with an unvaccinated child who was carrying the mumps virus.

Mumps is spread through droplets in the air, so an unvaccinated child need only cough or sneeze near you, or on a surface that you then touch, to infect you.

While mumps is a mild illness for most young children, for adults it is much more dangerous. There is a one-in-seven risk of it turning into meningitis, and secondary infections such as streptococcus — which I developed — are common.

My face was so swollen and disfigured I was minutes away from choking to death

But it gets worse. Mumps can leave you deaf, infertile and wholly unable to lead the life you were living. For some, it proves fatal.

Which is why I find the decision of an increasing number of parents not to have their children vaccinated against it so reckless and selfish.

Having been deemed a public health risk, I was sent home and told not to leave the house for a week so I couldn’t spread the infection.

After three utterly miserable days, I went to bed at 6pm with a debilitating migraine. Four hours later, I woke with a jolt. I couldn’t breathe. My throat had swollen so much it was choking me.

During a panicked 111 call, I was warned not to lie flat in case I choked to death, and to try to swallow some ibuprofen.

After three terrifying hours, the swelling eased. I didn’t need emergency treatment, but was prescribed an intensive course of antibiotics to treat the secondary infection I had developed.

My migraines and painfully enlarged glands lasted for another month. Yet even after I was ‘cured’ the effects lingered.

For the next six months I would regularly find my glands swelling again and feel completely drained of energy, and I needed a further three courses of strong antibiotics for recurring infections. Even walking upstairs could leave me exhausted to the point of collapse.

I returned to see my doctor and had post-viral fatigue diagnosed. This is a form of ME for which there is no treatment and which, I was told, could last months, if not years.

Regularly unable to leave the house, I lost work — so I lost valuable income — and missed important events in my children’s lives, including my son’s first school assembly and my daughter’s harvest festival. It was only the support of family and friends that prevented me sinking into depression. The repercussions continued, though.

Mumps can cause the ovaries to swell, and my periods were affected to the extent that I was tested for early-onset menopause.

For months I had dizzy spells and intermittent deafness in my right ear. Even now, 13 months on, if I catch a cold my glands swell visibly.

I have been warned that this may be permanent — the older you are, the harder it is for the body to recover from being battered by the virus.

As a result of my experience, I have become a staunch pro-vaccines campaigner. I have written to my MP, joined a group campaigning for mandatory vaccination schedules to be discussed in Parliament, and appeared on TV and radio to discuss my story.

It infuriates me that the pick-up rate of the MMR vaccination has fallen so dramatically, and that some parents prefer to believe something they read on Facebook than to do their research and take advice from qualified medical professionals.

At the school gates, I have had heated discussions with other parents who strongly disagree with me. Such is the strength of feeling in this dispute that, sadly, it has ended important friendships.

But no matter what the anti-vaxx mob say, I won’t change my view on this. Something needs to be done before measles, mumps and rubella return as epidemics.

It is my personal view that schools and nurseries should enforce an admissions policy whereby unvaccinated children are refused entry.

I would further suggest that anti-vaxx parents should be obliged to disclose the fact that their children haven’t been vaccinated before those children can enter a public play area.

I know this is controversial and many would say it was a step too far. But while I don’t want to stigmatise unvaccinated children — they have no choice in the matter — if their parents have strong enough convictions to flout all medical recommendations, then I believe they should have the strength of character to admit it.

Because it’s not just their own children and their classmates they are putting at risk of life-threatening diseases, but some of the weakest and most vulnerable in society — the very young who are not yet old enough to have been vaccinated, the elderly who missed out as children, and anyone suffering from a serious illness that leaves their immune system compromised. All these people could die if they become infected with measles, mumps or rubella.

In the week before my symptoms presented, I held a four-month-old baby and visited a cancer patient in a hospice. Had I contracted the virus just a few days earlier, I would have passed it to them, putting them at real risk of a painful death from the disease and its associated complications.

It’s a thought that haunts me and fills me with rage. By not vaccinating their offspring, the parents of the child who infected me could have killed someone.

People need to be educated about vaccination and parents must be encouraged to consider the whole picture. Deciding not to vaccinate your child isn’t merely a ‘personal choice’, it has an impact on the whole of society.

When the time comes to have them vaccinated, research the facts. Consult your doctor. Talk to people like me who have suffered after contracting these viruses. Or talk to the loved ones of those who weren’t as lucky as I was.

This is not a matter of opinion. It is a matter of life and death.

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