2/04/2014

Vaccinations are needed now more than ever


December 24, 2013 4:43 pm  •  


I remember vividly standing in a long serpentine line along with my mother and younger sister outside of the Armory in Greenville, South Carolina in 1963 awaiting our turn to receive the new Polio vaccine. Poliomyelitis was the most terrifying disease that a parent could imagine in the 1940’s, 50’s, and early 60’s, causing death or paralysis of the lower extremities, especially in young children. Polio had crippled Franklin D. Roosevelt in his early adult years leading to his wheel chaired Presidency. Children in the South were not allowed to swim in the community pools for fear of catching the misunderstood disease. It was a great relief when Jonas Salk discovered and perfected his Polio vaccine and on April 12, 1955 the vaccine was found to be safe and effective and was released for public use. During 1963 a Polio campaign was released in our area and we all took our turn as the white uniformed nurses placed a drop of the pink Polio oral vaccine onto a sugar cube which we placed on our tongue with great delight. Polio had averaged 45,000 cases a year but fell to 910 cases in 1962. The era of vaccines had begun. Rotary International, a civic organization, continues to provide vaccines for third world countries in hopes of world eradication of this devastating disease.
Smallpox had been a scourge of the world for thousands of years believed to have been noted as early as 500 years BC. Smallpox wiped out entire communities and tribes of Native Americans along the American frontier until Edward Jenner introduced a Smallpox vaccine in 1798. Thirty percent of its victims died within the second week of the infection. Smallpox was my second vaccination as a child. My Smallpox scar from the scratch vaccine on my left upper arm has faded and is no longer visible although the protection remains. The World Health Organization declared Smallpox totally eradicated in 1977 with the last natural case documented in Somalia.
I suffered with the usual diseases of childhood during the 1960’s. I remember being swallowed by the red rash of German Measles (Rubella) all over my body, the intensely swollen glands in my face and neck from Mumps, and the intense itching and vesicular rash of Chicken Pox. In those days, mothers would host “Chicken Pox parties” so uninfected children could be exposed to the disease and would hopefully develop the characteristic rash after a two week incubation period. This was to prevent the much more serious Chicken Pox infection of adulthood.
I saw my last case of Red Measles as a medical student at the University of Alabama in Birmingham in 1980. The Measles Vaccine was licensed in 1963. These diseases have for the most part disappeared or been greatly reduced with the widespread use of the MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) and Varicella(Chicken Pox)vaccines.
I have only seen one case of Tetanus in my medical career. However, it left a lasting impression as I watched this healthy farmer who had stepped on a dirty rake become unable to breathe from the paralysis of his respiratory muscles and was placed on a ventilator in the ICU. After weeks of paralysis he eventually developed a leak from his lungs into the surrounding tissues, and died a very unpleasant death.
Unlike the viral infections of Polio, Measles, Mumps, and Chicken Pox, Whooping Cough is caused by bacteria called Bordetella Pertussis. Whooping Cough, named because of its distinctive whooping sound during the cough, is a serious, highly contagious, respiratory infection that can be spread for two weeks after the cough begins. Although Pertussis (Whooping Cough) can be successfully treated with strong antibiotics it can be fatal to infants and devastating to young children. One half of infants less than one year of age are hospitalized and twenty percent will develop pneumonia. Because Pertussis is so harmful to small infants, everyone around them, including adults, needs to be vaccinated against the disease to create a circle of protection around them. Pertussis outbreaks continue to plague us with cyclical outbreaks every three to four years. The Department of Public Health and Human Services noted that only nineteen percent of infected children between the ages of 11 and 12 had received the Tdap Vaccine (a combination vaccine of Pertussis along with Tetanus and Diphtheria). The Pertussis vaccine was shown to be effective in 1939 and the first combination DPT vaccine was introduced in 1948. The current Tdap should be given at eleven years of age or prior to entering the 7th grade.
In the first nine months of 2013, five hundred and fifty-one cases of Pertussis were documented in the State of Montana involving thirty one counties. The five to seventeen year olds accounted for sixty five percent of the infections. There were two hundred and two of these cases found in Flathead County, while nine cases were identified in Missoula County and six cases in Ravalli County. The physicians at Bitterroot Clinic continue to see and treat documented and suspected cases of Whooping cough.
There are groups of individuals and celebrities who make claims that vaccines have caused harm to their children and generated widespread fear in parents and communities. These claims have been studied extensively by pharmaceutical companies, academic institutions and the scientific community and found no evidence to support their fears and concerns. The American Academy of Family Practice and the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly support and endorse childhood and adult vaccine and immunization programs.
As bacteria continue to become more resistant to our antibiotics, as well as a lack of newer antibiotics being developed, vaccines will become the major treatment of common infections by preventing the disease spread. We now have vaccines against influenza, and multiple forms of pneumonia and meningitis, Hepatitis A and B, Rotavirus (causing severe diarrhea). The newest vaccine designed to be given to young adolescents to prevent the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) can help prevent cervical cancer in adult women. Imagine, preventing cancer by getting an immunization.
Vaccines are here to stay. They are the medicine of the future. As the New Year begins, make a resolution to check your family’s immunization record and get them up to date. Your local Health Department or physician should be able to assist you in keeping them healthy and answering any further questions you may have.
Questions and or comments regarding this week’s health column please contact, Bitterroot Physicians Clinic, a clinic at Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital, 1200 Westwood Drive, Hamilton, MT 59840. Working together to build a healthier community!
Allen W. Jones, MD Bitterroot Physicians Clinic A clinic at Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital
1200 Westwood Drive
Hamilton, MT 59840 (406) 363-1100

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