Do you remember when you had chicken pox (varicella)? You had a fever, felt really sick, and itchy red spots formed all over your body. The spots soon became blisters that formed into scabs. Although chicken pox is often called a “nuisance” illness, it is really a serious disease that kills nearly 100 people a year.
The New Chicken Pox Vaccine
Now those lives will be saved, because last March the Food and Drug Administration approved a new chicken pox vaccine. Now children who get this long-awaited vaccination will have no idea what it is like to get chicken pox, just like you have never gotten other diseases such as mumps, polio, or smallpox.
Most likely, you’ve received vaccinations against these and other illnesses so you won’t get them. The vaccine causes your body to make antibodies against the disease-causing virus, so if the virus ever tries to attack your body again, the antibodies will be able to fight it off.
What if one of these viruses enters your body and you haven’t been immunized against it? “You have a 95 percent chance of getting an illness you are not vaccinated against,” says Dr. Richard Zimmerman, department of family medicine and clinical epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh.
Dr. Zimmerman helped coordinate the new immunization schedule announced in January 1995, which covers all vaccines given from birth through the teen years.
Why was a new schedule needed? Because in the past six years, 10 new recommended doses of vaccines have been added, creating confusion over which shots should be given at which ages.
If you’ve had your full course of immunizations, you’ve received injections that protect you from nine serious, even fatal diseases:
* Polio can leave a victim permanently paralyzed.
* Tetanus is an infection of the nervous system that is caused by skin-penetrating injuries contaminated by dirt or bacteria.
* Diphtheria is a vicious throat infection that forms a gray membrane in the throat, blocking air and making swallowing difficult.
* Pertussis or Whooping Cough causes a whooping cough and difficult breathing, to pneumonia.
* Measles is a red rash that can lead to pneumonia or encephalitis (brain infection).
* Rubella or German measles is a mild rash. However, if a pregnant woman contracts it and gives it to her unborn child, it may be fatal to the child.
* Mumps is a virus that causes swelling and tenderness around the jaw. Mumps can result in serious complications.
* Hepatitis B is a virus that can lead to liver disease, causing jaundice and even death.
* Haemophilus influenzae type b, sometimes called H. flu, causes lethal cases of meningitis, pneumonia, and other infections by infecting blood, joints, bones, and heart.
For Teens and Adults
Nearly 80,000 people still die of flu and pneumonia every year, and 120,000 are hospitalized. Complications from hepatitis B infections kill 5,000 people and hospitalize 1 0,000. From 1989 to 1991, a measles outbreak of unimmunized toddlers caused more than 55,000 cases and 160 deaths, mostly in adults.
An overwhelming percentage of these vaccine-preventable diseases occur in adults, not children. Doctors want people to know it is not only children who need immunizations. Teens and adults need “booster” shots to continue protection against tetanus when the original shot is no longer effective. People who are older or have a chronic illness need other immunizations.
Do You Have All Your immunizations?
There are laws that say all children must be immunized before entering school; still many children are not getting their shots.
Costs for immunizations vary and often may be expensive. But there are ways to help cover these costs. If your parents have a health insurance policy, it may cover immunizations. If it doesn’t, check with your local public health department or school clinic. They will have information on free or low-cost immunizations.
While parents are ultimately responsible for making sure their children get immunizations on time, you can take the initiative to check out your immunization record. If you don’t have the proper immunizations, you risk getting very sick from the illnesses mentioned above.
So, ask a parent and/or your doctor about your immunizations. Find out which shots you have or have not gotten, then make arrangements to get them. You’ll be making a wise investment in your health.