April brings about much awaited warm spring air, and we enjoy not only more sunshine, but a renewed, refreshed spirit after a long hard winter. From my perspective, and for my patients, this winter has been a very long one, laden with too many being sick! We have seen many different bacterial and viral respiratory and gastrointestinal illnesses to date, and they seemed to linger and spread like wild fire among family and social circles. To make matters worse, nationwide we are also seeing diseases that we medical professionals once believed to be rarely seen on U.S. soil. We now are seeing an outbreak of once rare, preventable illnesses growing exponentially. Have you heard about measles moving across the country and even whooping cough? Do you know how to recognize each? I bring this to your attention because we are faced with an immediate public health threat….a threat that could be standing right next to you, or looming in the air waiting for you to walk by and take a deep breath. April 24-30, 2015 is World Immunization Week and the time is now to stop and think about the steps you have taken to make sure you and your loved ones are protected and do not fall prey to PREVENTABLE illnesses and even cancer.
Every fall and winter, many can relate to the practice of getting your flu shot, right? Many employers and hospitals feel so adamant about this vaccine that they require it or off to the chopping block you go to find another job. Why, influenza is very contagious virus that can be prevented or at least made less severe by giving each of us a simple shot. You may have heard on the news that our flu vaccine did not work so well this year. You may have heard many say…what a waste! I counter to say, “Not true.” Each year we must make a new flu vaccine for the type of flu we expect to surface that year, as this intelligent virus changes its colors each year. Even though we did not match this year’s flu perfectly, we do feel it at least shortened the duration of one’s flu illness. Being sick for 3 days versus 7, which would you take?
Let me explain a little about vaccines. Our bodies are able to fight off an illness if it has seen it once before. This is our immunity. In order to teach our immune system to fight off any specific bug, we have to introduce them…a quick, but bad blind date, if you will! We make a vaccine by taking a portion of a virus or bacteria, the non-harmful part, and introduce it to our body to meet our immune system. Your immune system then recognizes it as foreign, the bad blind date, and remembers it. The next time any suggestion this bad blind date resurfaces your immune system attacks and stops it at the front door! You therefore do not get sick! There are those of you that may remember Chickenpox parties. Parents would purposely take their children to these gatherings to meet this short-lived, but uncomfortable virus so we could go ahead and make this rite of passage. If you think about it, most you know have had chickenpox, and it rarely happens twice! Why? It is your immune system is doing its job.
As for the Measles and whooping cough outbreak at present, it is one of the most contagious and is causing sickness and death when this could have been prevented. We lost a baby this year in North Carolina to whooping cough. To come to this defense we are vaccinating every pregnant woman every pregnancy as this in effect gives the newborn about 6 months of immunity if it were to be exposed to whooping cough. For measles, this used to be common in childhood over 50 years ago. Prior to 1963, Measles occurred in about 500,000 children per year in the United States and resulted in about 450 deaths. Thankfully, we were able to develop a vaccine against this relentless virus and up until 2014 those sick were far below 100 in the United States. Worldwide, where the Measles vaccine is not available, the Measles virus affects about 20 million people per year. Here we are in 2015 and the Measles virus is back and breaking records. It was first noted in California in December 2014, and in this short time has traveled to over 17 states and Washington DC. Speedy travels for one small virus indeed! It seems common sense to give a simple shot that could save so many, however the concept and practice giving this simple shot, a vaccine, is not so simple.
The practice of immunization using vaccines has become a polarizing presence in our society. There are those who believe in vaccines, there are those who are indifferent and will accept if their Doctor recommends it to them, and then there are those who are adamantly opposed no matter what any Doctor says. You may remember back to 1998 when the news broke that the vaccine for Measles Mumps and Rubella, also known as MMR, caused Autism. Parents were rightfully alarmed and afraid for their children. Why would anyone give a vaccine that could cause a permanent, lifelong disability? We know now however, that this claim was not backed by evidence nor did it directly prove any link. We have so much more evidence that vaccines are safe and prevent life-threatening disease. We even have vaccines to prevent cervical and liver cancer.
Don’t wait. Vaccinate! The CDC is working to also raise awareness to spread the word because our immunization practice prevents approximately 2 to 3 million deaths every year. In 2013, the CDC reports that 1 in 5 children did not receive their necessary vaccines, and even further, an estimated 21.8 million infants did not receive lifesaving vaccines. I challenge you to do your own research, talk to your health care provider and assure you and your loved ones are best protected and properly vaccinated. You may start with the internet and see what you need. The best place to start is going to the website cdc.gov, our nation’s leading Center for Disease Control. This is information you can trust.