With some preventable illnesses like measles on the rise and the debate
over vaccinating or not still going strong, some vital information is
getting lost in all the noise. Do you know what the diseases
are that we typically vaccinate against, or even how they are spread? If not,
please read along and educate yourself!
Chicken Pox / Shingles
Chicken Pox is a very contagious illness caused by the varicella zoster
virus, a variant of the herpesvirus. Chicken pox generally affects children,
causing fever and a rash with extremely itchy blisters. Most people start
to show signs of the virus about 10 days after exposure and the virus
generally runs its course within two weeks. Although the virus usually
affects children, adults can also contract it. Adults tend to have more
serious cases and complications that are more serious as well. Those with
a weakened immune system should be especially vigilant to avoid the virus.
Once a person contracts the varicella virus, it can stay in their system
and remain dormant for years—then “awaken” as the shingles
virus. The shingles virus also has an immunization, recommended for adults
over the age of 60.
flu, or influenza, is a viral infection of the lungs, nose and throat. Droplets
from and infected person talking, coughing or sneezing can spread the
infection to others within a six foot radius of the sick person. People
can also contract the infection from touching infected surfaces and then
touching their own nose or mouth. Influenza causes up to 49,000 deaths
annually and is particularly dangerous for the young, elderly, those with
asthma and respiratory conditions or diabetics.
Hepatitis A and B
Hepatitis A is a highly contagious liver infection caused by coming in
contact with contaminated food or water, or from close contact with a
person who is infected. Most people who contract the illness have mild
cases that do not cause permanent liver damage. Symptoms of the infection
include fatigue, nausea and vomiting, clay-colored bowel movements, jaundice,
intense itching, fever and loss of appetite. Prevention of the disease
includes proper hand washing techniques, especially in food service industries,
taking caution when traveling out of the country to areas like Mexico,
or South/Central America, and practicing safe sex. Receiving a vaccine
within two weeks of exposure can help protect from infection, and seeing
a doctor sooner, rather than later can help prevent liver damage.
Hepatitis B is a virus that lives in the blood causing chronic liver disease.
The infection can lead to liver cancer or conditions of the liver that
cause death. The Hepatitis B virus is generally spread through sexual
contact or sharing of needles. The virus can also be spread to infants
via their mothers during pregnancy. The Hepatitis B virus is 100 times
more contagious than the HIV virus that leads to AIDS. Approximately 1.2
million Americans are estimated to be living with the disease currently
and most are unaware of their condition.
Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)
HPV, the Human Papilloma Virus, is the most common sexually transmitted
disease, affecting 79 million Americans. The illness usually resolves
on its’ own, but if it does not go away on its own, it can cause
cancers and genital warts. HPV has recently been in the news because of
causing throat cancer in several celebrities. Both men and women can be
affected by the HPV virus. Aside from vaccination, spread of the virus
can be prevented by practicing safe sex.
Measles has recently been in the news and on the rise. It is a highly contagious
viral infection that involves a red rash, affects the respiratory system,
lungs and breathing tubes. Spread through sneezing and coughing, the virus
can live up to two hours on surfaces. Some 90% of unvaccinated people
exposed to measles will become infected with a risk of pneumonia, brain
swelling and death. Prior to the vaccine being available, 3-4 million
people got the virus annually and 400-500 of those died from the virus.
According to the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), from January 1-August 8, 2019, there have been 1,182 individual
cases of measles confirmed in 30 states. This is the greatest number of
cases reported in the United States since 1992 and since measles was declared
eliminated in 2000. The MMR vaccine is recommended to protect against
measles and rubella (described below).
Meningococcal disease is also a bacterial infection that can cause meningitis,
an infection of the blood as well as swelling of the spinal cord and brain.
The bacteria is spread by something as innocent as living with someone
who has the disease or kissing, as the bacteria lives in the back of an
infected persons nose or throat. Symptoms often come on quickly and are
usually a fever and stiff neck. It is not unusual for the infected person
to believe they have the flu. Getting treatment quickly is urgent as the
bacteria affects approximately 1200 people annually and even with treatment,
as many as 15% of those infected die.
Mumps is a viral disease that causes the infected person to have swollen
salivary glands, a fever, headaches and muscle aches along with fatigue
and loss of appetite. Transmission of the virus is “airborne”
meaning that when an infected person coughs or sneezes, others can breathe
in the virus and become infected also. Although this infection is now
rare thanks to immunizations, outbreaks still do occur in more densely
populated living spaces such as college dorms. The infection can lead
to serious health problems like meningitis, deafness and sterility in
men. From January 1 to July 19, 2019, 45 states and the District of Columbia
in the United States reported mumps infections in 1,799 people to CDC.
Pertussis or Whooping Cough
Whooping Cough or
Pertussis have also been on the rise. This virus makes it hard to breathe due to
severe coughing that has a distinct “whooping” sound. The
virus is passed along by breathing in bacteria that someone else has coughed
or sneezed into the air. An infected person can be highly contagious for
up to two weeks once coughing begins. Whooping cough is especially dangerous
to infants and can cause seizures, pneumonia and ultimately slowed or
stopped breathing. In 2012, the most recent peak year, CDC reported 48,277
cases of pertussis in the United States, the largest number of cases reported
in the United States since 1955 when public health experts reported 62,786
cases. In 2018 there were 13,439 cases reported. Two vaccines are available
to help prevent whooping cough: DTaP or Tdap and are administered depending
on the age of the patient.
Pneumococcal disease is a bacterial infection that can cause several illnesses,
including bronchitis and ear infections (noninvasive illnesses) and blood
infections, pneumonia or meningitis (invasive illnesses). The bacteria
is passed from person to person through touching an infected persons mucus
or saliva. The bacteria is especially dangerous to those who are 65 an
older and those with underlying health conditions. If the infection becomes
meningitis or bacteria enters the blood stream, it can become deadly.
Polio is a viral infection affecting muscles and can cause injuries to
the nerves that result in paralysis; difficulty breathing and can even
lead to death. At one point, Polio was the most feared disease of the
20 Century, crippling many generations. In 1952 it was considered an epidemic
affecting 58,000 people, including President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The
Poliovirus lives in the intestines and disease transmission is caused
by coming into contact with a sick person’s feces. The iron lung
was a medical treatment, allowing many victims of Polio to breathe. There
are only a few operating iron lung machines left, as they have been replaced
by positive pressure ventilators used now.
Similar to measles, rubella is a contagious viral infection characterized
by a distinctive red rash, especially dangerous to pregnant mothers. Symptoms
of the virus include fever, cold symptoms, enlarged lymph nodes and a
fine pink rash that begins on the face and quickly spreads to the rest
of the body before disappearing in the same order it appeared. Rubella
is especially dangerous to expectant mothers and has been known to cause
serious birth defects. Rubella has been called the German measles, but
is caused by a different virus than the measles (rubeola) virus. Rubella
has been declared eliminated in the United States because of wide-spread
vaccination, but the CDC cautions that it could re-emerge as it is still
common in other parts of the world.
Tetanus is a bacterial disease that infects the body through a cut or open
sore. The bacteria is found in soil, dust and manure, resulting in conditions
like lock jaw, breathing problems, muscle spasms and death in 10-20% of
Tetanus cases. Those most affected by the bacteria are typically individuals
older than 60 and those with diabetes.
Although most of these preventable illnesses are unusual to be seen in
the United States, understanding these viral and bacterial public health
risks can help communities be vigilant for outbreaks or resurgence of
the diseases, and minimize illness and its affects—whether you choose
to vaccinate or not.
Rachel Conrad, PBT, CPT, MA, works at CCH
Wellness as a Technician, Phlebotomist and Health Coach in Gillette, Wyoming. Campbell
County Health's Wellness works to reduce health risks and promote
overall wellness among employee groups and individuals in Campbell County,
Wyoming and beyond. To learn more about Wellness, please visit
www.cchwyo.org/Wellness or call 307.688.8051.