Vaccine-preventable diseases are infectious illnesses that can be effectively prevented through the administration of vaccines. These diseases are caused by various bacteria, viruses, or other pathogens, and they can result in significant morbidity and mortality if left unchecked. Vaccines work by stimulating the immune system to recognize and neutralize specific pathogens, providing immunity and protection against future infections.
Vaccine-preventable diseases encompass a wide range of illnesses, including measles, mumps, rubella, polio, influenza, hepatitis, meningitis, and many others. Vaccination programs have played a crucial role in reducing the incidence and impact of these diseases worldwide. By immunizing individuals, vaccines help to establish herd immunity, where a significant portion of the population is protected against a particular disease, limiting its spread and protecting vulnerable individuals who cannot be vaccinated due to age, medical conditions, or other factors.
CDC – Chickenpox Chickenpox is caused by the varicella-zoster virus and is sometimes referred to as varicella. The virus can cause a full body, blister-like rash that can cause itchiness and general discomfort. The rash often occurs one to two days after fever, tiredness, loss of appetite, and headache. During this initial stage of the illness the person is considered contagious.
Chickenpox is a highly contagious disease. If one individual has chickenpox, up to 90% of contacts to that individual who are not immune will also become infected. Occasionally, there are cases of chickenpox in those who have been vaccinated, known as “breakthrough cases”, but these individuals have milder symptoms and a shorter illness course. If you come in contact with someone diagnosed with chickenpox you should watch for symptoms for 21 days after this exposure. Symptoms typically appear in two weeks, but it can take up to 21 days for the symptoms to develop after your last exposure to someone who is contagious.
The most effective way to prevent chickenpox is to get vaccinated. However, if you do develop chickenpox you should stay home until you are no longer infectious. If you have never been vaccinated you should stay home until the last blister has burst and crusted over, which typically occurs five to six days after the rash initially begins. If you have a “breakthrough case” after being vaccinated, you should stay home until no new blisters or lesions have appeared for 24 hours.
CDC – Diphtheria Diphtheria is an infection that is caused by the bacteria Corynebacterium diphtheriae. This bacterium makes a toxin, which then can cause people to become ill. Symptoms include weakness, sore throat, mild fever, swollen glands, and difficulty breathing and swallowing. The toxin kills healthy tissue and starts to form a thick, gray coating that can build up in the throat or nose, causing difficulty breathing and swallowing. The toxin can also cause heart, nerve, and kidney damage if it enters the bloodstream. The bacteria can also infect the skin, causing sores or ulcers.
Diphtheria is spread from person-to-person through respiratory droplets or through direct contact with open sores on the skin. If untreated, someone may be able to spread the bacteria for up to four weeks. However, if treated, the bacteria usually cannot be spread after 48 hours on antibiotics. If you come in contact with someone diagnosed with diphtheria you should contact your healthcare provider to discuss antibiotics to prevent yourself from getting sick, watch for symptoms for 10 days after your last exposure, get tested for diphtheria, and get a diphtheria booster shot if you are not up to date on your vaccines.
There are two vaccines in the United States to protect against diphtheria, the DTap and Tdap. DTap is intended for infants and children and Tdap is intended for preteens, adults, and pregnant individuals. In addition to protecting against diphtheria, these vaccines also protect against tetanus and whooping cough (pertussis).
CDC – Hepatitis A Hepatitis A is an infection caused by the hepatitis A virus. It causes inflammation of the liver and can cause tiredness, nausea, stomach pain, and jaundice (yellowing of the skin and/or eyes). It is spread through close personal contact with an infected individual or through eating contaminated food or drinks. This virus is highly contagious, but it is also vaccine preventable.
CDC – Hepatitis B Hepatitis B is an infection caused by the hepatitis B virus. It does not always cause symptoms, but some of the symptoms it can cause include tiredness, poor appetite, stomach pain, nausea, and jaundice (yellowing of the skin and/or eyes). It is spread through infected bodily fluids of an individual infected with hepatitis B. This virus is vaccine preventable.
CDC – Haemophilus Influenzae Hib bacteria live in a person’s nose and throat and, normally cause no harm. However, these bacteria can move to other parts of the body and cause infections. When it spreads to other parts of the body it can cause a whole range of illnesses, some mild and some severe, depending on where it spreads. For example, some people can get ear infections caused by this bacterium. When it spreads to somewhere that is normally sterile (free of bacteria) it is called an invasive infection. These invasive infections are more serious and include complications such as bloodstream infections, meningitis, and infected joints.
Since the bacteria live in people’s noses and throats this bacterium is spread through respiratory droplets caused by things like coughing and sneezing. If you have been in contact with someone diagnosed with Hib, you should call your healthcare provider to determine if you need antibiotics to help prevent you from becoming ill.
There are six different forms of the Haemophilus influenzae bacteria (types a, b, c, d, e, and f). Currently, there is only a vaccine available to help prevent type b (the Hib vaccine). It is recommended that even if you have previously had a Hib infection that you get the vaccine as prior infection does not guarantee future immunity.
CDC – Human Papillomavirus (HPV) HPV is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that an infected individual can spread even if they have never had symptoms. Most of the time HPV will go away on its own within two years without causing any health problems. However, when HPV does not go away it can cause health problems such as genital warts and certain types of cancer. There is no way to know what health complications may or may not occur in an individual who has contracted HPV. Fortunately, there is a vaccine for HPV that is extremely effective at preventing HPV infections, and therefore, preventing these health complications.
CDC – Measles Measles is a viral infection that causes fever, runny nose, cough, red eyes, sore throat, and a full body rash. Typically, the rash will start after all the other symptoms, and it usually starts on the face and then spreads over the rest of the body. Measles can cause severe complications in those younger than 5 years of age, adults older than 20 years of age, pregnant women, and individuals who have a compromised immune system. Some of these complications require hospitalization and can include pneumonia, swelling of the brain, death, and, in pregnancy, premature birth or a low-birth-weight baby.
Measles can be spread from person-to-person through coughing and sneezing, but it can also be spread by breathing in the contaminated air or touching a surface that has respiratory droplets on its surface. This virus can live for up to two hours in an airspace after an infected person leaves the area. Measles is so contagious that if one individual has measles, up to 90% of contacts to that individual who are not immune will also become infected. Measles can be spread four days before the rash appears to four days after the rash appears. If you have been exposed to someone with measles you should call your healthcare provider and monitor for symptoms for 21 days after the exposure.
Measles can be prevented by the MMR vaccine which protects against two additional diseases (mumps and rubella). The MMR vaccine is approximately 97% effective at preventing measles after two doses.
CDC – Meningococcal Disease Meningococcal disease is a broad term to refer to any illness caused by the Neisseria meningitidis bacteria. The two most common infections caused by this bacterium are meningitis and bloodstream infections. Both infections are severe and require immediate medical attention. Symptoms of meningococcal meningitis include fever, headache, stiff neck, nausea, vomiting, light sensitivity, and confusion. Symptoms of meningococcal septicemia (bloodstream infection) include fever, chills, tiredness, vomiting, body aches, abdominal pain, rapid breathing, diarrhea, and, in later stages, a dark purple rash.
Meningococcal disease is spread from person-to-person by sharing respiratory and throat secretions (saliva or spit). It takes close and/or lengthy contact with someone who is infected to contract the bacteria. The highest risk individuals for contracting the disease from someone who is ill would be individuals who share the same home or anyone who had direct contact with the ill individual’s oral secretions (through activities such as kissing or sharing drinks). If you find out you have had contact with someone diagnosed with meningococcal disease you should talk to your healthcare provider to see if you need antibiotics to prevent you from becoming ill. Even if you are prescribed antibiotics, you should watch for symptoms for 10 days after your last exposure to the sick individual and call your healthcare provider immediately if symptoms occur.
There are two types of meningococcal vaccines available for use in the United States. Both vaccines are safe and help protect against the bacteria Neisseria meningitidis to help prevent becoming ill.
CDC – Mumps Mumps is a viral infection that causes swollen, painful salivary glands, fever, headache, muscle aches, tiredness, and loss of appetite. The disease is contagious from a few days before the swelling in the salivary glands begins until five days after the swelling begins.
The mumps virus is spread through direct contact with saliva or other respiratory droplets from someone who is infected with the disease. This means it typically spreads through coughing, sneezing, talking, sharing items that may have saliva on them (cups or water bottles), or participating in close-contact activities (high contact sports, dancing, or kissing). If you have had contact with someone who has mumps you should watch for symptoms for 25 days after the last exposure to that person while the disease was contagious. There is no medication to take after exposure to prevent the disease from occurring.
The best way to prevent mumps is getting vaccinated. The vaccine for mumps is the MMR vaccine which also protects against measles and rubella. Two doses of the mumps vaccine are 88% effective at preventing the disease.
CDC – Polio Polio, sometimes called poliomyelitis, is caused by the poliovirus. This virus can be mild and cause mild or, even, no symptoms. It can also be severe and cause paralysis and, sometimes, death. Some individuals with the virus may have sore throat, fever, tiredness, nausea, headaches, and stomach pain with symptoms only lasting 2-5 days. However, others will go on to develop meningitis (infection of the covering of the spinal cord and/or brain) or paralysis. It is impossible to tell who, if infected, will develop which set of symptoms.
The poliovirus is extremely contagious and is spread through person-to-person contact as it only infects people. The virus lives in the infected individual’s throat and intestines, so it can be spread through respiratory droplets or their contaminated feces (poop). An infected person can spread the virus immediately before the symptoms develop and up to two weeks after symptoms appear.
Even if someone fully recovers from polio, they can develop a condition called post-polio syndrome (PPS) that causes muscle weakness, tiredness, and joint pain. PPS usually begins developing anywhere from 15-40 years after the initial infection. As with the initial infection, it is impossible to tell who will go on to develop PPS. PPS is not contagious.
The poliovirus vaccine is incredibly effective and helped eradicate the disease in the United States. However, the vaccine is still necessary, as this virus is still present in other countries and can be acquired while traveling.
CDC – Pneumococcal Disease Pneumococcal disease refers to any infection caused by the bacteria called Streptococcus pneumoniae. Some of the infections caused by the bacteria are relatively mild, such as ear infections or sinus infections. However, the bacteria can cause pneumonia, meningitis (infection of the covering of the spina cord and/or brain), and blood infections. Symptoms vary depending on what type of infection someone develops. If an individual is concerned they may have a pneumococcal infection, they should consult their healthcare provider.
Many individuals are carriers of the bacteria, meaning they have the bacteria in their nose or throat, but do not become ill. This bacteria is spread through direct contact with respiratory secretions like the mucus or saliva of someone with the bacteria. Since there are people who carry the bacteria, but do not become ill, it is unknown how long someone may be able to spread the disease.
Vaccines for pneumococcal disease are recommended for both children and adults. Many children get the vaccines as part of their routine childhood vaccines and they will likely not need any further vaccines after this series. However, adults who have never received a pneumococcal vaccine should talk with their doctor if they are 65 years or older or are 19-64 years old and have conditions that may put them at high risk for severe disease, such as an immunocompromising condition.
CDC – Rotavirus Rotavirus is a viral illness that is most common in infants and young children. It can cause illness in older children and adults, but they tend to have milder symptoms than infants and younger children. Symptoms include severe watery diarrhea, vomiting, fever, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, and, sometimes, dehydration. Dehydration can be especially dangerous in infants and young children and may require hospitalization.
The virus is shed in the feces (poop) of those infected with the virus. Someone infected with the virus sheds more of the virus when they actively have symptoms and in the first three days after they recover. Someone can be infected with rotavirus if they touch contaminated surfaces and then put their hands in their mouth, eat contaminated food, or put their unwashed hands that are contaminated with feces (poop) in their mouth. Hand washing is especially important to try to help prevent infection, but the vaccine is the best way to be protected.
There are two different rotavirus vaccines available in the United States to help protect your child, as the vaccine is given in their infancy. Some children will still become ill with rotavirus even if they are vaccinated, but the vaccine helps protect against severe disease with 9 out of 10 children vaccinated having mild illnesses.
CDC – Rubella Rubella is a viral illness, sometimes referred to as German measles as it was first recognized as a separate disease from measles in Germany. Rubella typically causes rash, fever, headache, pink eye, general discomfort, enlarged lymph nodes, cough, and runny nose. The rash typically appears on the face first before spreading to the rest of the body and, normally, lasts about three days. Most individuals will have mild illnesses, however there are some complications that can occur. This virus can sometimes cause brain infections and bleeding problems. The biggest risk for complication is for an unborn child. If an unvaccinated pregnant individual contracts rubella they may have a miscarriage, or the child may die immediately after birth. If the child survives birth they may have serious birth defects, such as heart problems, loss of hearing and eyesight, intellectual disability, and liver or spleen damage.
The virus spreads through respiratory droplets when someone who is infected coughs or sneezes. An individual with rubella may spread the virus up to one week before the rash appears and remain contagious until about seven days after the rash appears. Some individuals do not develop a rash or other symptoms but can still spread the virus to others. The other way rubella is spread is from a pregnant individual to their unborn child.
The measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine is an effective way to protect against all three of these diseases. For rubella, this vaccine is approximately 97% effective at preventing rubella.
CDC – Shingles Shingles is caused by the varicella zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. Once someone has had chickenpox and has the virus in their body, it can lay dormant and cause shingles when the immune system is weakened. Individuals vaccinated for chickenpox can also get shingles, but is far less common than in individuals who had chickenpox disease. Shingles is a painful rash that develops on one side of the body or face. The rash typically consists of blisters that scab over in about seven to ten days and then fully clear up in two to four weeks. When the rash is on the face, it can impact the eye and lead to vision loss. Some individuals also experience fever, headache, chills, and an upset stomach when they have shingles.
The varicella zoster virus is more contagious when causing chickenpox than shingles, but those with shingles can still spread the virus. An individual with shingles can spread the virus through fluid from their rash. The virus, when spread to individuals who have never had or never been vaccinated for chickenpox, can develop chickenpox if infected, they cannot develop shingles from transmission of the virus. If you have shingles there are some things you can do to avoid spreading the virus such as covering your rash, avoiding touching or scratching the rash, and washing your hands. You should also avoid pregnant individuals who have never had chickenpox or the vaccine, premature or low birth weight infants, and people with weakened immune systems until your rash has crusted over.
Vaccination against shingles consists of two doses of the vaccine. This vaccine is recommended for all adults 50 years and older and adults 19 years or older who have weakened immune systems. This vaccine is recommended even if you have previously had shingles as it can help prevent future occurrences of the disease.
CDC – Tetanus Tetanus, sometimes referred to as “lockjaw”, is an infection caused by the bacteria Clostridium tetani. Tetanus infections are severe and cause jaw cramping, involuntary muscle spasms, painful muscle stiffness throughout the body, trouble swallowing, seizures, headaches, fever, sweating, and changes in blood pressure and heart rate. There are additional complications that can occur including uncontrolled tightening of the vocal cords, broken bones, blood clots in the lungs, and pneumonia from accidentally getting saliva or vomit in the lungs. The disease and symptoms usually progress over a two-week period but can require extensive recovery.
Many vaccine preventable diseases can be spread person-to-person, however tetanus cannot be spread directly from person-to-person. The bacteria enter the body through broken skin, usually injuries. The ways that tetanus can enter the body include contaminated wounds, puncture wounds (such as with a nail), burns, crush injuries, or injuries with dead tissue. These bacteria are common in the environment and are often found in dirt, dust, and manure. It is important to clean any wounds thoroughly to avoid contamination with the bacteria.
The tetanus vaccine is the best way to prevent the disease and its possible complications. There are two different vaccines: DTap and Tdap. DTap is intended for infants and children and Tdap is intended for adults and pregnant individuals. These vaccines also protect against diphtheria and whooping cough (pertussis). Protection from the vaccine, as well as prior infection, do not last a lifetime, so it is important to ensure you are up to date on your tetanus vaccine. The tetanus vaccine is part of routine childhood vaccines but is also recommended every ten years for adults. If you are unsure of your vaccination status, talk with your doctor. Also be sure to talk with your doctor if you suffer an injury that may be contaminated.
CDC – Pertussis (Whooping Cough) Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is an infection caused by the bacteria Bordetella pertussis. The illness usually starts similarly to a common cold with a runny nose, congestion, fever, cough, and sometimes difficulty breathing which lasts anywhere from one to two weeks. With whooping cough the cough can last anywhere from one to ten weeks and infected individuals will have coughing fits that can cause them to make a “whoop sound” when they are able to inhale at the end of the fit, vomit during or immediately after the fit, become extremely tired after the fit, and struggle to breathe. Symptoms are usually more severe in infants and children than in teens and adults. After this severe bit of illness, it can take an additional two to three weeks for an individual to fully recover and these individuals are susceptible to other respiratory infections for months after recovery.
The bacteria that causes whooping cough is easily spread through the air from an infected individual coughing and sneezing. If someone has whooping cough they can spread the bacteria from the start of their first symptoms to at least two weeks after the coughing begins. Antibiotics can help reduce the amount of time someone is able to spread the bacteria. If you are exposed to someone who has whooping cough you may be offered antibiotics to help prevent you from becoming ill. If you are exposed, talk with your healthcare provider to determine if you need these antibiotics.
There are two vaccines in the United States to protect against whooping cough, the DTap and Tdap. DTap is intended for infants and children and Tdap is intended for preteens, adults, and pregnant individuals. In addition to protecting against whooping cough, these vaccines also protect against tetanus and diphtheria.
Call your doctor or your child’s pediatrician to schedule an appointment for vaccines. Central District Health offers childhood vaccines and some adult vaccines. To schedule a vaccination appointment, call 208-327-7400.
If you have questions about Vaccine preventable diseases, please fill out the form or call us.
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