Vaccines: Effective Prevention for Children and Adults

Chicken Pox Vaccine: Effective Prevention for Children and Adults
DTaP Vaccines: Essential Protection against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Pertussis
Flu Vaccines: Recommended Protection for Adults and Children
The Nasal Flu Vaccine Spray: Alternative Protection Against Seasonal Influenza
Hepatitis A Vaccination: An Ounce of Prevention
Hepatitis B Vaccine: Protection Against Serious Liver Disorders
Hib Vaccine: Protection for the Youngest Children Against Life-Threatening Conditions
The MMR Vaccine: Protection Against Deadly Childhood Diseases
The Pneumococcal Vaccine: Pneumonia Protection for Young Children
Eliminating Polio: The Polio Vaccine

 

Chicken Pox Vaccine: Effective Prevention for Children and Adults

Chicken pox, or varicella, is a common childhood illness that is characterized by an intensely itchy rash over much of the body and is closely related to the more serious condition of shingles. Generally mild in children, chicken pox can be very serious or even life-threatening for infants less than six months old, as well as for adults. This is especially true for pregnant women who have not previously been exposed to the illness, as it can affect the development of the unborn child. In most cases, individuals who have contracted chicken pox in the past will not catch it again even if they are exposed; this is because the body usually develops a natural immunity to the illness that protects it against becoming infected again.

Chicken Pox Vaccine

The chicken pox vaccine was first developed in Japan during the 1970s and was approved for general use in 1988 in both Japan and Korea. The U.S. followed suit in 1995, but the chicken pox vaccine did not gain widespread acceptance immediately. Today, forty-one states require that children be vaccinated against chicken pox in order to attend public schools, although exemptions are available on a variety of medical, religious and other grounds. The chicken pox vaccine is live, or attenuated; this means that the injected material is still capable of causing infection, although it has been weakened and altered to be less harmful. The form of chicken pox present in the vaccine is usually not strong enough to cause serious illness in most individuals.

Chicken Pox Vaccine
male skin with chicken pox

Administration And Side Effects

The vaccine is typically administered in two injections. The first should take place between twelve and fifteen months, and the second sometime between four and six years. For older children and adults, the dosages are the same and the two injections should be administered four to eight weeks apart. The chicken pox vaccine is currently available in a single-antigen formula that only provides protection against varicella and a combination form that also incorporates vaccine protection against measles, mumps and rubella as well. Side effects are usually mild and include rash, fever and pain at the injection site. The duration of protection has not been established, but Japanese studies suggest that it may be twenty years or longer.

Contraindications

Pregnant women should not be vaccinated and should avoid exposure to chicken pox. Additionally, individuals who are allergic to neomycin will likely be allergic to the vaccine as well and should not undergo vaccination. As with other live vaccines, individuals with compromised immune systems because of cancer treatments or other conditions should not receive the vaccine. In most cases, however, the chicken pox vaccine can provide protection against this disease and has already been credited with preventing a significant number of deaths over the last fifteen years.

 

DTaP Vaccines: Essential Protection against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Pertussis

Consisting of combined immunizations against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis, better known as whooping cough, DTaP vaccinations protect both children and adults against these dangerous diseases. DTaP injections are among the most essential vaccinations for younger children and typically are administered in six doses beginning at two months of age and continuing periodically until the child reaches twelve years old.

Diphtheria

A life-threatening bacterial infection, diphtheria affects the throat and upper respiratory system of the sufferer. Left untreated, it can cause choking and suffocation or organ failure due to the buildup of bacterial toxins in the bloodstream. Diphtheria is especially dangerous for young children and older adults; the CDC estimates that as many as one in five patients under the age of five or over forty who contract the disease will die from it. The DTaP vaccine offers almost complete protection against diphtheria and has significantly reduced the death rate for this illness in the countries where vaccinations are consistently practiced.

Tetanus

Commonly known as lockjaw, tetanus is not contagious and is typically contracted when the tetanus bacteria enter the bloodstream through a puncture or break in the skin. If untreated, between 10% and 20% of tetanus cases result in the patient’s death, so vaccination is crucial in order to protect against this deadly disease.

Pertussis

Pertussis is a highly contagious bacterial infection that causes a characteristic whooping cough, the source of its common name. This cough is so severe that it can prevent sufferers from eating, drinking, or even breathing properly. Brain damage due to lack of oxygen, dangerous seizures, heart and lung damage and pneumonia are some of the complications of pertussis and can result in death, especially in areas without modern medical facilities. Pertussis is one of the most serious and contagious childhood diseases and can reach epidemic proportions in populations where the vaccine is not used.

Side Effects

Fever is the most common side effect of the DTaP immunization process. For children who are susceptible to seizures, controlling the fever is especially important since high fevers can potentially produce or worsen these reactions. Acetaminophen is recommended for infants, while children over six months old can also be given ibuprofen in order to reduce fever. Fatigue and irritability can also occur in younger children, while nausea and vomiting are less common but typically harmless side effects of the vaccinations.

The DTaP vaccine provides superior protection against three of the most serious childhood diseases. Generally, the vaccine is safe for most children, although pediatricians may recommend a diphtheria-tetanus shot instead for those who have had a serious reaction to previous DTaP inoculations. For most children, the DTaP vaccination procedure is a safe and effective way to avoid the serious and life-threatening effects of diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis.

 

Flu Vaccines: Recommended Protection for Adults and Children

Influenza, or the flu, is not one single ailment, but many viral infections that fall into the same category. Influenza was at one time considered among the most deadly illnesses; the worldwide flu pandemic of 1918 and 1919 killed over 675,000 people in the U.S. alone, and infected roughly 20% of the entire world’s population. While modern medical techniques can offer real hope, even in especially virulent cases of the flu, the best defense against the illness is to avoid infection altogether.

Formulating The Vaccine

Developing a flu vaccine is a difficult task, because each vaccine only protects against specific versions of the flu. Each year, influenza centers from 101 countries all around the world provide data to the World Health Organization (WHO) on outbreaks and emerging strains of the flu; WHO then determines which strains should be included in the next year’s vaccine formulation in order to protect most effectively against this potentially deadly disease. Seasonal flu vaccines are trivalent; this means that they include protection against each of the three major types of flu. The specific strains chosen to represent each major category, however, are determined by WHO and recommended to individual countries that then select their own formulations based on that recommendation and other factors pertinent to the individual nation. In the U.S., for instance, the Food and Drug Administration determines the particular strains included in the seasonal flu shot.

Universal Immunization

In February 2010, the CDC’s Advisory Board on Immunization Practices issued a recommendation that all individuals aged six months or older should receive an annual influenza vaccination. While immunization is most crucial for young children, persons over forty, health care workers, and women who are pregnant or who may become pregnant, the vaccination is beneficial across a wide spectrum of the population and may also serve to minimize the transmission of flu. This makes it a valuable tool in managing health care issues on a national level, as well as offering additional protection for individual patients.

Administering The Vaccine

For adults and children over the age of eight, only one dose of the flu vaccine is required for full protection against the strains contained in the formulation. Children aged six months to eight years, however, require two doses in some cases in order to maintain full immunity to these strains, unless they have received the flu vaccine in previous years. A nasal spray version of the vaccine is also available as an alternative method of vaccination for children two and older.

When Not To Vaccinate

Children under six months of age should not be given the flu vaccine; additionally, persons seriously allergic to eggs or who have demonstrated an allergy to previous flu shots cannot receive the vaccination. It is also necessary for the patient to be in good general health before administering the vaccine.

 

The Nasal Flu Vaccine Spray: Alternative Protection Against Seasonal Influenza

The various strains of influenza can be dangerous to younger children. Flu shots can provide protection against these diseases, but often produce tears and protests due to the pain of the injection. In recent years, the development of a nasal flu vaccine spray that offers the same benefits as the injections has proved invaluable in persuading younger children to accept these immunizations more readily. Marketed under the name of FluMist, the nasal flu vaccine spray is easy to use and requires no painful injections, making it a favorite among children everywhere.

Influenza

Each year flu and related complications cause the deaths of about 36,000 people. The term influenza or flu is used to refer to a number of different viral infections, each with its own set of symptoms and risks. Most strains of influenza are not dangerous to otherwise healthy adults, but occasional outbreaks of virulent strains have caused tens of millions of deaths and can be exceptionally hazardous to the elderly and to young children. One of the most common complications of flu is pneumonia, an inflammation of the lungs that can create significant respiratory problems and may lead to shortness of breath, oxygen deprivation, and even death in those susceptible to the disease.

The nasal flu Vaccine spray

Originally conceived and developed by Professor of Epidemiology Hunein Maassab at the University of Michigan in conjunction with the National Institute of Health, the nasal flu vaccine spray was brought to fruition at Aviron, a medical research company located in California. In 2002, MedImmune acquired Aviron and in June 2003 the FDA approved the nasal flu vaccine spray for use under the brand name FluMist. To date, FluMist is the only nasal flu vaccine spray approved for use in the United States.

Recommendations For Use

The FDA has approved FluMist for use in children aged two years and up; it has not yet received approval for younger children or for adults over fifty. Children aged two to eight years should receive two doses of the nasal flu vaccine spray in the first year of vaccination; subsequent annual treatments should require only one dose of the vaccine. Some studies suggest that the nasal flu vaccine spray may be more effective in young children than the traditional flu shot, making it even more attractive for parents and eliminating the tears and complaints typical of the injection process.

The nasal flu vaccine spray offers over 90% effectiveness in protecting against seasonal influenza. Patients with asthma or other respiratory disorders should not receive the nasal spray version of the vaccine, and those allergic to eggs or to other versions of the vaccine should not be administered the nasal flu vaccine spray in order to prevent serious allergic responses.

 

Hepatitis A Vaccination: An Ounce of Prevention

Hepatitis A is a liver disease that can cause jaundice, digestive tract problems, including pain and diarrhea, and overall flu-like symptoms. The disease progresses over time and can cause significant damage to the liver that may require dialysis and, in some cases, may even result in death. Hepatitis A is spread by close contact with infected persons, typically by living in the same household or by sharing personal items with them.

Risk Factors for Hepatitis A

While anyone can become infected with hepatitis A, certain risk factors can increase the chances of infection. Blood clotting disorders that require frequent transfusions, frequent travel, and poor hygienic standards in the area of residence are frequent culprits; high-risk activities include promiscuity and illegal drug use. Because hepatitis A is highly contagious, the CDC recommends that all children be immunized between their first and second birthdays in order to protect them against this disease and help to prevent its spread. Children who are not vaccinated during this time can catch up on hepatitis A vaccinations during subsequent visits to the pediatrician.

Administration of the Vaccine

Hepatitis ADigital illustration of hepatitis virus
Digital illustration of hepatitis virus

The hepatitis A vaccine is delivered in two doses that should be spaced at least six months apart. The vaccine itself is inactive and does not pose the same risk as live vaccines, making it exceptionally safe, even for children. Younger children receive the injection in the thigh muscle of either leg, while adults and older children typically are vaccinated in the upper arm. Studies suggest that children who receive both doses of the vaccine are protected against hepatitis A infection for up to twenty years; adults may experience protection for up to twenty-five years after vaccination.

Side Effects

Most side effects of the hepatitis A vaccine are minor and of short duration. These include headache, loss of appetite, fatigue, and soreness in the area of the injection. Serious allergic reactions to the vaccine are rare and typically include shortness of breath, hives, dizziness, rapid heart rate, and other signs of anaphylactic shock. Children exhibiting any of these symptoms should be checked by a doctor or seen in an emergency room immediately. The vaccine should not be administered to individuals who have exhibited allergic reactions to the hepatitis A vaccine or any component of the vaccine in the past.

The hepatitis A vaccine is a safe and effective way to protect against the serious health risks associated with hepatitis A infection. The CDC, American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Academy of Family Physicians all recommend that children be routinely vaccinated for hepatitis A in order to protect themselves and those with whom they come in contact against this potentially deadly disease.

 

Hepatitis B Vaccine: Protection Against Serious Liver Disorders

 

While not as easily transmitted as hepatitis A, hepatitis B is a serious viral disease that attacks the liver and can cause significant damage to internal organs over time. Chronic cases of hepatitis B infection can lead to liver cancer, cirrhosis, and other debilitating illnesses. Certain lifestyle choices or medical conditions can increase the chances that an individual will contract hepatitis B, but anyone can become infected with the illness through exposure to contaminated blood or other bodily fluids. Babies can become infected during delivery if the mother is infected with hepatitis B.

Symptoms of Hepatitis B

While thirty percent of adults with hepatitis B never develop symptoms of the disease, most infected individuals exhibit some or all of the typical symptoms, which include yellowing of the skin, darkening of the urine, nausea and lack of appetite, fever, fatigue, and aching joints. Most people recover from hepatitis B entirely and are no longer carriers of the disease. About four percent of infected adults, however, continue to carry the virus in their systems for the rest of their lives and are known as chronic carriers of the disease. Of that four percent, about one in four will develop serious liver problems at some point during their lives. Many people who are currently infected with hepatitis B are not aware that they carry the disease, since it does not always produce recognizable symptoms. Blood tests are the only reliable way to determine if someone has been infected.

The Hepatitis B Vaccine

The CDC recommends that all children and adolescents be given a course of vaccinations against hepatitis B to protect them from becoming infected later in life. The hepatitis B vaccine is inactive and cannot cause a live infection. Because children are more likely to suffer from chronic hepatitis B rather than the acute version of the illness, it is especially important to protect them against the disease early in childhood. Most babies are given the hepatitis B vaccine at birth and complete the entire course of three or four shots by the time they are eighteen months old. Older children who have not been vaccinated against hepatitis B should complete the course of vaccinations as soon as is practical. The most common side effects of the vaccine are a low-grade fever and soreness at the point of the injection.

The hepatitis B vaccine should not be administered to children who are allergic to baker’s yeast or who have had a previous adverse reaction to the vaccine. For most children, however, hepatitis B vaccinations protect against serious liver diseases and disorders and can help stem the spread of this serious infection.

 

Hib Vaccine: Protection for the Youngest Children Against Life-Threatening Conditions

Haemophilus influenza type b (Hib) disease is a bacterial infection that typically affects children under the age of five. It is contagious and can be passed from person to person in much the same way as a cold.

In most cases, Hib bacteria do not develop into Hib disease and cause no real problems for those exposed to the bacteria. For some children, however, Hib disease can spread to the bloodstream or lungs, causing serious illness and even death.

Bacterial meningitis, epiglottitis and pneumonia are among the most common side effects of Hib disease. These illnesses can cause brain damage, respiratory difficulties and may even prove fatal in some cases. The Hib vaccine is the most effective way to protect children against this disease and the devastating health issues it can cause.

Meningitis

Bacterial meningitis is a rare, life-threatening infection that attacks the membrane covering the brain and spinal cord. Children who develop Hib disease are at much higher risk of contracting bacterial meningitis than healthy children. In fact, about half of all those with invasive Hib disease contract meningitis. Of these children, between 2% and 5% will die and up to 30% will experience permanent brain or neurological damage due to the disease.

Epiglottitis

Hib disease can also affect the epiglottis and cause swelling that can block the airway. This is especially dangerous in very young children because it can also depress the breathing instinct, causing asphyxiation, if not promptly and effectively treated.

Pneumonia

I
n cases where Hib disease spreads to the lungs, it can develop into pneumonia, an inflammation of the lungs that can cause suffocation and death, in extreme cases. Because Hib disease primarily affects vulnerable, very young children, the risks associated with pneumonia are substantially increased. Serious lung damage, pleurisy and pleural abscesses, or respiratory and circulatory failure can result from pneumonia in the very young.

Hib vaccine

The Hib vaccine offers nearly total protection for children against this deadly disease . The first version of the vaccine was released in 1985, but was not effective in children under 18 months; this made it nearly useless, and it was abandoned in 1988.

Later versions of the Hib vaccine proved to be effective for children aged six weeks and up. Current Hib vaccines are available in a single-vaccine formulation or in conjunction with other vaccines, including diphtheria, pertussis, hepatitis B, tetanus and polio. The Centers for Disease Control recommends that infants be vaccinated against Hib disease from six weeks of age. Side effects are rare, typically consisting of redness, itching, or minor swelling at the injection site.

 

The MMR Vaccine: Protection Against Deadly Childhood Diseases

Vaccinations are a rite of passage for most children, and the MMR vaccine is no exception; it provides reliable protection against measles, mumps and rubella, three of the most common childhood diseases. Introduced in 1963, the MMR vaccine was one of the first to become widely available in the United States and is required in most states before children are allowed to attend public schools. While these diseases are well-controlled within the United States, they represent a significant threat to the health of children in less developed nations throughout the world.

Measles

A highly contagious viral infection, measles can produce complications that include encephalitis, ear infection, pneumonia and bronchitis. These complications can result in hearing loss, vision impairment, blindness, respiratory failure and even death. Although measles was once commonplace throughout the United States, MMR vaccinations are credited with reducing cases of measles to less than 1 percent in countries with routine vaccination. Most cases of measles in the United States are attributable to traveling abroad to countries with less strict vaccination policies.

Mumps

Epidemic parotitis is informally referred to as mumps and is a contagious viral disease that most commonly affects children between the ages of 2 and 12. The virus causes swelling in the salivary glands that can make chewing and swallowing extremely painful. In most cases, children recover from the mumps without hospitalization; however, severe complications can occur, including temporary or permanent deafness, meningitis or encephalitis. Both meningitis and encephalitis are extremely dangerous and can result in death in some patients. The MMR vaccine provides protection against this disease in 80 percent of vaccinated children.

Rubella

Also known as German measles, rubella is a contagious viral disease that primarily affects children. While most cases of rubella are not serious, pregnant women are at high risk if exposed to the disease without proper vaccinations since it can produce a number of fatal ailments to the unborn child and may even result in spontaneous abortion. The effects of rubella on the unborn child are most significant in the first and second trimester and can cause congenital rubella syndrome, a serious array of illnesses that can lead to microcephaly, deafness, blindness, mental retardation and congenital heart disease. Due to the widespread use of the MMR vaccine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced in 2004 that the disease has been eliminated in the United States; however, children and adults should ensure that their immunizations are in order before traveling abroad.

The MMR vaccine offers exceptional protection against three of the most dangerous childhood diseases. Serious side effects of MMR vaccination are rare; additionally, both the CDC and the National Health Service of the UK have determined that there is no credible causal link between MMR vaccinations and autism, despite claims by certain medical groups in the past.

 

The Pneumococcal Vaccine: Pneumonia Protection for Young Children

The pneumococcal vaccine protects children and adults against a particularly dangerous bacterial infection called streptococcus pneumoniae. This infection is responsible for a number of very serious illnesses, including otitis media, pneumococcal pneumonia, bacteremia and meningitis.

Otitis Media

More commonly known as a middle ear infection, otitis media can cause irritability, pain and fever, especially in younger children. In severe cases, this infection can precipitate deafness, and the fever associated with the ailment can be dangerous for susceptible individuals.

Pneumococcal Pneumonia

One of the most common diseases caused by streptococcus pneumoniae is pneumonia, a dangerous inflammation of the lungs and its surrounding membranes. For young children, elderly individuals and those with weakened immune systems, pneumonia can constitute a major health risk and may even prove fatal in some cases.

Bacteremia

One serious side effect of a streptococcus pneumoniae bacterial infection is the risk of it spreading to the bloodstream and causing a serious systemic disease called bacteremia. This condition can trigger septic shock and may cause the major organ systems of the body to fail, leading to death.

Meningitis

An inflammation and infection of the membranes surrounding the brain, meningitis is one of the most serious potential consequences of a streptococcus pneumoniae infection and can induce swelling and damage to the spinal cord and brain. In some instances, meningitis causes brain damage that can lead to mental retardation, deafness, blindness and even death.

Pneumococcal Polysaccharide Vaccine

The pneumococcal vaccine is available in two varieties. One type is the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine, which offers protection against 23 different strains of streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria and is typically only used for elderly individuals and those with severely compromised immune systems. Children generally do not derive as much protection from this more comprehensive vaccine; as a result, it is not normally used in children under two and is not a routine vaccination for older children.

Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine

The pneumococcal conjugate vaccine, the other variety of vaccine, is the one most commonly used and is recommended for children aged two months and up. It provides protection against the effects of streptococcus pneumoniae and the associated diseases the bacterial infection can engender. The pneumococcal conjugate vaccine is effective against seven different strains of the bacteria and has been shown to produce significant reductions in the rate of infections among younger children.

The CDC recommends that all infants and young children receive four doses of the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine by the time they reach 15 months. This intervention protects the youngest, most vulnerable children against the deadly complications of this bacterial infection and may even offer protection for other members of the family as well due to the lessened risk of exposure.

Child in rural India with severe Polio
Child in rural India with severe Polio

 

Eliminating Polio: The Polio Vaccine

Originally developed by Jonas Salk, the polio vaccine was first tested in 1952 and was released in 1955. Prior to the widespread availability of the vaccine, poliomyelitis or polio claimed many lives and caused paralysis in many other sufferers. While the disease produced no effects in approximately 90% of infected individuals, the remaining ten percent were often crippled or suffered other lasting effects from this infectious viral disease. Individuals who have once contracted polio acquire lifelong immunity to the disease; the polio vaccine provides similar immunity after the full course of vaccinations has been completed.

Polio

Most people with normal immune systems experience no negative effects from the disease apart from a minor sore throat and flu-like symptoms including stomach upset. Individuals with weakened or less developed immune systems, however, may experience significant negative results if the virus enters the circulatory system. Paralysis and muscle weakness are among the lasting results of the illness, and meningitis and other spinal infections can occur as well, especially among infants.

Developing The Vaccine

While Jonas Salk created the first effective polio vaccine, a number of other attempts had taken place before the successful effort came to fruition. Maurice Brodie, a researcher at New York University, had made great strides toward the goal by using the spinal cords of monkeys to derive the virus and then killing it with formaldehyde. However, the resulting vaccine did not produce immunity and caused allergic reactions in many test subjects.

Researchers at Children’s Hospital Boston successfully cultivated the virus in human tissue in 1948. These laboratory experiments paved the way for Salk’s achievement and provided valuable insight into the workings of the viral infection mechanism. Salk’s virus was a dead, or inactive, version of the polio virus that could not cause the illness, but could provoke the body’s natural immune response to provide protection against the infection and prevent the vaccinated individual from contracting the disease. Albert Sabin was responsible for developing the oral vaccine, which uses a live but attenuated, or weakened, version of the virus and is effective against polio in the same way as the Salk vaccine.

The Polio Vaccine Today

Due to widespread vaccination practices, poliomyelitis has virtually been eradicated around the world. Fewer than 2,000 cases of polio are reported throughout the world each year. Polio is still present in Nigeria, India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and surrounding areas so vaccination is still necessary in order to protect travelers against the disease. Children should receive four doses of the vaccine in oral or injection form between the ages of two months and six years in order to acquire immunity to this dangerous childhood disease.

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