Vaccine-Preventable Diseases

Chickenpox (Varicella) is an illness caused by a virus. Chickenpox is usually a mild febrile illness with a rash. In adolescents and adults however, this virus may produce more serious disease with complications such as pneumonia. Pregnant women who become infected with the varicella virus are at even greater risk for serious complications than other adults, especially late in pregnancy. In addition, infection early in gestation can occasionally produce serious birth defects in the fetus.

Diphtheria is a serious bacterial disease and is spread person to person by infected secretions. Diphtheria can cause blockage of the airway, making it impossible to breathe. It can also cause heart problems.

Haemophilus influenza type b (Hib) is a very serious bacterial disease, which causes about 12,000 cases of meningitis (inflammation of the covering of the brain) in the United States each year. For the most part, this disease affects children under the age of 5 (children between 6 months of age and 1 year of age are affected by the most serious Hib disease). One in four children with the disease suffers permanent brain damage and about one in 20 dies. Other problems caused by “Hib” are pneumonia and infections of the blood, joints, bones, soft tissues, throat and the covering of the heart. Please do not be confused with the name. “Hib” does not have anything to do with the flu (influenza).

Hepatitis is a disease characterized by inflammation of the liver. The symptoms of hepatitis are mild fever, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, stomach pain, dark urine, and sometimes yellow discoloration of the eyes and/or skin. It should be noted that young children (those under 5 years of age) may not seem sick or may appear to have a mild illness like “stomach flu” but can still spread the illness to adults. Several viruses can cause hepatitis, but the most common are A and B.

  • Hepatitis A virus is spread from person to person by eating food or drinking water that has been contaminated with human feces. It is estimated that 150,000 people in the United States are infected each year by hepatitis A. The Centers for Disease Control list household or sexual contact, child care attendance or employment, and recent international travel as the major risk factors for hepatitis A.
  • Hepatitis B virus can cause a serious form of hepatitis. The infection may occur in two phases. The acute phase occurs just after a person becomes infected, and can last from a few weeks to several months. Some people recover after the acute phase, but others remain infected for the rest of their lives. Over half the people who become infected with hepatitis B never become sick, but some later develop long-term liver disease. Hepatitis B is passed from one person to another in blood or certain body fluids. A baby can get hepatitis B from its mother during birth.

Influenza (flu) is a highly contagious viral infection of the nose, throat, and lungs. It is one of the most severe illnesses of the winter season, and spreads easily when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Influenza may lead to hospitalization or even death, especially among the elderly. Typical symptoms include an abrupt onset of high fever, chills, a dry cough, headache, runny nose, sore throat, and muscle and joint pain. Because the virus changes, persons can contract influenza each year.

Measles is a highly contagious disease caused by a virus. Symptoms are rash, high fever, cough, runny
nose and watery eyes. Measles can cause serious problems. Nearly 1 out of 10 children with measles will get an
ear infection or pneumonia. One child out of 1,000 will develop an inflammation of the brain, which can lead to
convulsions, deafness or mental retardation. One or two children out of 1,000 will die from it. A pregnant woman can experience a miscarriage or give birth too early due to measles.

  • Immunization for measles has greatly reduced the number of cases occurring in the United States. Ten years prior to the vaccine, an average of 530,000 cases were reported each year in the United States and over 450 people died each year from measles. Today, the number of measles cases is less than 5 percent of what it was before the vaccine was available.
  • However, cases continue to occur due to inadequate immunization. Any child who has not been immunized for measles is at risk for getting the disease.

Mumps is another disease caused by a virus. Symptoms of mumps are fever, headache and inflammation of the salivary glands (this causes swelling of the cheeks at the angle of the jaw). More serious effects from mumps are meningitis (inflammation of the coverings of the brain and spinal cord) which occurs in one out of ten children. Other problems which can occur are encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), deafness and painful inflammation and swelling of the testicles (one out of every four males).

  • Before the vaccine, nearly every child got mumps. Because of the vaccine, the number of cases is much lower.

Pertussis (Whooping Cough) is a highly contagious disease. It is caused by bacteria living in the mouth, nose and throat of the infected person.

  • Pertussis causes severe spells of coughing which can interfere with eating, drinking and breathing. Pertussis is most serious in infants less than 1 year of age, and more than half of the infants reported with pertussis are hospitalized.
  • Complications are fairly common. One out of every 10 children with pertussis will develop pneumonia. Convulsions (seizures) occur in 20 out of 1,000 children. An average of nine deaths a year has been caused by pertussis.

Pneumococcal disease is the leading bacterial cause of meningitis, pneumonia, ear infections and sinus infections. Pneumonia symptoms include high fever, cough with chest pain and mucus, shaking, chills, breathlessness and chest pain that increases with breathing. Older adults often experience changes in level of consciousness or confusion.

Polio is a very dangerous disease caused by a virus which lives in the throat and intestines of the individual infected with it. Many people can spread the infection to others even though they may not have symptoms of the illness.

  • Milder forms of polio usually come on suddenly and last only a few days. Although some individuals do not have any symptoms, others may experience fever, sore throat, nausea, headache, stomach ache, pain and stiffness (neck, back and legs).
  • “Paralytic polio” is the serious form of polio and can cause paralysis (inability to move parts of the body). The symptoms are the same as in the milder form, however, they are usually accompanied by severe muscle pain. If paralysis occurs, it does so within the first week. The person may not be able to move his/her arms or legs, and may have difficulty breathing without the help of a respirator or assisted breathing. There is not a specific treatment for polio and the amount of recovery varies with the individual.
  • In 1952, the number of cases of paralytic polio in the United States was more than 20,000. Polio has been irradicated from the Western Hemisphere.

Rubella (German measles) Rubella is usually considered a mild disease of childhood. It is caused by a virus which is spread through coughing, sneezing or talking.

  • The usual symptoms are mild discomfort, a slight fever for about 24 hours, and a rash on the face and neck that lasts for two or three days. Young adults may experience swollen glands in the back of the neck and temporary pain, swelling or stiffness of body joints. Recovery is usually quick and complete.
  • The biggest concern about rubella is its affect on unborn children; they are in the greatest amount of danger from rubella if their mothers get the disease early in the pregnancy. The chances of such babies being born with birth defects may be as high as 80 percent. The most common birth defects are blindness, deafness, heart and major artery damage, abnormally small brains and developmental delays.
  • Immunization for rubella not only protects the immunized child but also protects those not able to be immunized.

Tetanus (lockjaw) is caused by a toxin (poison) produced by a bacteria that enters the body through a cut or wound. Tetanus causes serious, painful spasms of all muscles and can lead to “locking” of the jaw so a person cannot open his or her mouth, swallow or breathe. Three of 10 people who get tetanus die from the disease. Everyone should receive a “Td” vaccine (tetanus and diphtheria) every 10 years after their last childhood DTP/DTaP or TD.

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