Imagine if you wake up to find yourself paralyzed and unable to move, or even breathe on your own. And then imagine this happens to 15,000 other people in your country every year. This is the scenario that would occur regularly with polio before the polio vaccine eradicated the disease in the United States in the 1970s. Many of us were born after this time frame or are too young to remember the fear so many parents would have, especially in the summertime, when children would love to escape the heat of the summer for the fun of swimming. Many parents kept their kids away from pools because polio cases spiked in the summer. This was because polio can be transmitted via contaminated water, and young children would often end up being infected with polio from swimming in public pools and ponds.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the scourge of polio was eradicated by 1979 in the United States, due to vaccinations. Many people experience long-term effects of having been infected as a youngster, even as acute symptoms pass, living as adults with the damage the virus made to their bodies.
Health & Human Services Secretary Alex Azar recently released a statement about the resurgence of measles and the importance of vaccines. Measles is highly contagious, with 90% of people who are unvaccinated at time of exposure contracting the disease. In some heartbreaking cases, measles can lead to death. Even though measles is called a “childhood diseases”, any unvaccinated person, no matter what age, is at risk of contracting the disease.
The Center for Disease Control describes measles this way: Measles starts with a high fever. Soon after, it causes a cough, runny nose, and red eyes. Then a rash of tiny, red spots breaks out. It starts at the head and spreads to the rest of the body. Measles can be serious. Some complications from measles can be permanent hearing loss, pneumonia, and even death. Some survivors of measles can later be affected by a syndrome called Subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE), a very rare, but fatal disease of the central nervous system that results from a measles virus infection acquired earlier in life.
Polio, measles, mumps and many other diseases can be prevented by vaccinations. There is reluctance by some parents to vaccinate their children. More information about vaccines and the controversy surrounding them can be found on CQ Researcher, one of the Denver Public Library’s useful and free research databases, which provides full-length articles including overviews, historical background, chronology, pro/con features, plus resources for additional research. We also have a helpful database called “Points of View”, which sheds light on multiple facets of issues, including vaccination. Medline also provides handy tips for evaluating medical information on the web.
Colorado is especially at risk because our vaccination rate is about 88%, which is under the threshold of “herd immunity”. Herd immunity is, according to the Centers for Disease Control, a situation in which a sufficient proportion of a population is immune to an infectious disease (through vaccination and/or prior illness) to make its spread from person to person unlikely. Even individuals not vaccinated (such as newborns and babies under age one and those with chronic illnesses) are offered some protection because the disease has little opportunity to spread within the community.
Low vaccination rates are of concern to pregnant mothers, newborns, and babies under the age of one. Diseases like rubella (German Measles) can cause miscarriage in pregnant women or serious birth defects (such as eye diseases, heart defects, hearing loss, microcephaly, bone disease, mental retardation, and diabetes). Whooping cough (pertussis) can cause a newborn to stop breathing altogether and is responsible for the deaths of up to 20 babies each year in the United States. More information about vaccines and pregnancy can be found here.
What if you don’t know whether you received a vaccine? Click here.
We have online health resources for free at the Denver Public Library website. And, please, do contact your healthcare provider for information that's right for you. We're no substitute for medical professionals.
Sampling of materials the Denver Public Library has on the subject:
- Vaccines: what everyone needs to know® by Kristen A. Feemster
- The essential guide to children's vaccines by Deborah R. Mitchell
- Between hope and fear: a history of vaccines and human immunity by Michael S. Kinch
- The vaccine-friendly plan: Dr. Paul's safe and effective approach to immunity and health--from pregnancy through your child's teen years by Paul Thomas, MD
- The vaccine War Immunization: how vaccines became controversial, by Stuart S. Blume
- Vaccine nation: America's changing relationship with immunization by Elena Conis
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