52 Weeks to Health: Week 17, World Immunization Week

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World Immunization Week is an annual observance to highlight the importance of protecting infants from vaccine-preventable diseases and celebrate the achievements of immunization programs and their partners in promoting healthy communities. Diseases such as smallpox, diphtheria, polio, measles and whooping cough were mostly wiped out in the US through excellent immunization programs.  Unfortunately some of these are coming back as more parents choose to withhold vaccines. Whooping cough and measles outbreaks in recent years exemplify this problem.

Whooping cough (pertussis) is a very contagious disease that can be deadly for babies. It is spread from person to person, usually by coughing or sneezing while in close contact with others. Babies are most at risk before they are fully immunized themselves, so those caring for them should be immunized. Tdap vaccine (tetanus, Diphtheria and Pertussis) can be given to anyone 7 years and older. Also pregnant moms-to-be should be vaccinated during their pregnancies at around 30 weeks gestation so as to maximize passive antibody transfer to the infant. The level of pertussis antibodies decreases over time, so Tdap should be administered during every pregnancy in order to transfer the greatest number of protective antibodies to each infant.

You may be hearing a lot about measles lately, and wondering why it has returned what you as a parent need to know about this disease. CDC has put together a list of the most important facts about measles for parents. www.cdc.gov/measles.  Measles can be serious. Some people think of measles as just a little rash and fever that clears up in a few days, but measles can cause serious health complications, especially in children younger than 5 years of age. There is no way to tell in advance the severity of the symptoms a child may experience.

  • About 1 in 5 unvaccinated people in the U.S. who get measles will be hospitalized.
  • 1 out of every 1,000 people with measles will develop brain swelling, which could lead to brain damage
  • 1 to 3 out of 1,000 children who become infected with measles will die from respiratory and neurologic complications.
  • Measles may cause pregnant women who have not had the MMR vaccine to give birth prematurely or have a low birth weight baby.

Some of the more common measles symptoms include high fever, cough, runny nose and red, watery eyes. Measles rash appears 3 to 5 days after first symptoms.  Measles is very contagious and spreads through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It is so contagious that if one person has it, 9 out of 10 people around him or her will also become infected if they are not immunized. An infected person can spread measles to others even before knowing he/she has the disease—from four days before developing the measles rash through four days afterward.

Measles was declared eliminated from the U.S. in 2000 thanks to utilization of a safe and effective vaccine. That means that the disease is no longer constantly present in our country.

  • From January 1 to December 31, 2019, 1,282* individual cases of measles were confirmed in 31 states. Of these cases, 128 were hospitalized and 61 reported having complications, including pneumonia and encephalitis.
  • This is the greatest number of cases reported in the U.S. since 1992. More than 73% of the cases were linked to recent outbreaks in New York. The majority of cases were among people who were not vaccinated against measles. Measles is more likely to spread and cause outbreaks in U.S. communities where groups of people are unvaccinated.

Worldwide, an estimated 10 million people get measles and 110,000 people, mostly children, die from the disease each year. Even if your family does not travel internationally, you could come into contact with measles anywhere in your community. Every year, measles is brought into the United States by unvaccinated travelers (Americans or foreign visitors) who get measles while they are in other countries. The best protection against measles is measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine.

Your child needs two doses of MMR vaccine for best protection:

  • The first dose at 12 through 15 months of age
  • The second dose 4 through 6 years of age

If your family is traveling overseas, the vaccine recommendations are a little different: If your baby is 6 through 11 months old, he or she should receive one dose of MMR prior to leaving.  If your child is 12 months of age or older, he or she will need 2 doses of MMR vaccine (separated by at least 28 days) before departure.

On a separate note, it is important to point out that Kentucky is one of the unhealthiest states in our nation; but, a few healthy lifestyle choices could change this. First, eating normally proportioned helpings of nutritious foods including at least five fruits and vegetables a day can lower weight and reduce heart disease and diabetes. Second, exercising about 30 minutes per day can lower blood pressure. Third, avoiding the use of tobacco products can reduce several types of cancer. Finally, making sure you get your needed preventive screenings can detect diseases early and greatly increase your chances for a positive health outcomes, while receiving your recommended vaccinations can prevent acquiring disease in the first place.

Source: Centers for Disease Control (CDC)