Tuesday, March 27, 2012
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Riding the subway can sometimes feel like a biological warzone. People are coughing, sneezing, sniffling and wheezing. Today on the train I saw a guy have a particularly vigorous sneezing fit and then grab the pole with the same hand he had just sneezed into. All I could think was, “Germs were just transferred to the pole. WARNING: Do not touch.” Working at a hospital has made me incredibly attuned to how germs are spread and, I have to admit, it drives me a little crazy at times. While most of these germs might lead to an innocuous ‘bug,’ on rare occasions they can lead to more serious communicable diseases, such as the measles or whooping cough.
Diseases previously thought to be eradicated from the United States, such as mumps, measles and pertussis, are re-emerging in communities across the country. The good news is that they can be prevented by proper vaccination, and public health officials have focused on vaccinating children due to their susceptibility to both contracting and spreading these diseases. Although more American children are getting immunized, there’s a fear of potential outbreaks in certain areas of the country where vaccination rates are dangerously low.
“Vaccination for pediatric patients and their caregivers is one of the most valuable forms of defense against communicable disease,” stated Dr. Lucy Pontrelli Director of Pediatric Infectious Diseases. “Young children, especially those under 6 months of age, are susceptible to multiple infectious diseases because their immune system has not fully developed.” Although children are vaccinated against many of these illnesses, they remain susceptible until the first series is completed. In addition, certain vaccinations are not recommended until after 6 months of age. This means that family members and caregivers can unknowingly infect children, if they haven’t been vaccinated or if they’re not up-to-date with their recommended booster shots.
This stresses the importance of ‘herd immunity,’ where unvaccinated people are protected from contracting a disease when a large percentage of the population is immunized. In the winter of 2010, there was a mumps outbreak in the community surrounding Maimonides Medical Center, which infected more than 1,500 people in the metropolitan area. Most of the affected individuals were young adults, not children. According to reports from New York City and Federal health officials, it was the worst outbreak in the United States since 2006. These adults either had not been immunized or their immunity had subsided since their previous vaccination.
So why aren’t people following proper vaccination guidelines for both themselves and their children? Many states allow exemptions for both religious and philosophical reasons, which allow parents to opt out of school-required vaccination mandates. However, even more worrisome is the erroneous belief that vaccines can harm children or cause developmental problems.
In a 2010 survey conducted by the CDC, nearly one-third of parents said they were concerned that vaccines caused autism. “This all started with Andrew Wakefield who published an article claiming a link between the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism,” explained Dr. Chapnick, Director of Infectious Diseases. Under further review, the British Medical Journal found that Dr. Wakefield not only falsified his findings, but that he was paid to do so from a lawyer who was suing vaccine manufacturers. “Consequently, Dr. Wakefield’s medical license was revoked and the study was retracted from the Lancet,” stated Dr. Chapnick. “However, the damage had been done. Even though he’s been totally discredited, there are a lot of people out there who still believe vaccines will cause autism.”
In 2008, the New York City Department of Mental Health and Hygiene reported that 20% of children did not receive all of their recommended vaccines. Assuming that these unvaccinated children become unvaccinated adults, there’s is a lot of people walking around and riding subway who are not immunized.
So it’s important to protect you and your family by staying up-to-date with your shots. If you have questions or concerns about vaccines or recommended immunization schedules, speak to your physician.