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Vaccine Preventable Diseases



Updated March 30, 2014

Parents usually understand the importance of getting all of the recommended childhood vaccines.

Although kids rarely like getting shots, parents usually understand the importance of getting all of the recommended childhood vaccines on time.

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Vaccines have done such a good job of controlling diseases in developed countries, such as the United States, that parents sometimes forget just how important they are and what life would be like without them. Current vaccines and past vaccination programs have now controlled 10 major infectious diseases.

Vaccine Preventable Diseases Today

Unfortunately, many of these diseases, except for smallpox, are still rampant in third world and developing countries, which can mean a comeback anywhere that vaccines begin to be delayed or stopped. Worldwide, the World Heath Organization reports that there continue to many childhood illnesses from these vaccine preventable illnesses, including:

  • diphtheria - 4,489 cases and 2,500 deaths (2011)
  • Haemophilus influenzae type b disease - 199,000 deaths (2008)
  • measles - 122,000 deaths (2012)
  • mumps - over 680,000 cases in children and adults (2012)
  • neonatal tetanus - 59,000 deaths (2008)
  • pertussis - 195,000 deaths (2008)
  • pneumococcal disease - 476,000 deaths (2008)
  • poliomyelitis - only 404 cases in 2013
  • rotavirus - 453,000 deaths (2008)
  • rubella - at least 300 cases of congenital rubella syndrome (2012)
  • rubella - over 94,000 cases of rubella (2012)
  • smallpox (eradicated worldwide in 1980)
  • tetanus - 63,000 deaths (2008)
  • yellow fever - 130,000 cases and 44,000 deaths (2013)

Fortunately, we are making progress. The CDC estimates that worldwide, "an estimated 13.8 million deaths were prevented by measles vaccination during 2000–2012" and we are close to eradicating polio. Polio is now endemic in just three countries - Nigeria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

Epidemics and Outbreaks of Vaccine Preventable Diseases

Epidemics of now vaccine preventable diseases were once very common. In fact, epidemics of measles once occurred in two to five year cycles in the United States, affecting 200,000 to 500,000 people.

Although measles has been mostly eradicated in the United States, some cases are imported are from other parts of the world. That is because measles remains a leading cause of death of young children around the world.

Even with low or nonexistent rates of many infections, like measles, polio, and diphtheria in the United States, parents shouldn't forget that these infections are just a plane ride away from your child. That is how the early 2008 California Measles Outbreak got started -- an unvaccinated child who traveled to Sweden, was exposed to measles, got sick, and got many other kids infected with the measles virus.

Just how quickly these infections can spread is also highlighted by other recent outbreaks and epidemics:

  • rates of diphtheria, pertussis, and measles greatly increased after the breakup of the Soviet Union as vaccines became less available in Russia and the other Newly Independent States. In fact, cases of diphtheria reached epidemic levels by 1995 and there were over 4,000 deaths during the outbreak.
  • an outbreak of measles in Ireland in 2000 after routine use of the MMR vaccine fell because of vaccine safety fears, leading to 1407 cases and admission of 111 children to the hospital. Even more concerning, 13 of the children were so sick that they had to be admitted to the intensive care unit, seven were on mechanical ventilators to help them breath, and three children died.
  • rising rates of measles in Europe, up to 30,000 in 2011, which led to 8 deaths, 27 cases of measles encephalitis, and 1,482 cases of pneumonia. Most cases were in unvaccinated (82%) or incompletely vaccinated (13%) people, after decreased use of the MMR vaccine because of worries over a possible link to autism.
  • polio outbreaks in the Netherlands (1992) and United States and Canada among the Amish people (1978) -- all among unimmunized people.
  • pertussis outbreaks in Japan (1979) and Sweden (1983) after immunization rates decreased and which led to the deaths of 41 children in Japan that year.
  • a measles outbreak in the Netherlands (1999 to 2000) among a mostly unvaccinated community, which ended with 3,292 cases of measles, 72 hospitalizations, and 3 deaths.
  • a rubella epidemic in 1991 among the Amish in Pennsylvania, who had low immunization rates, led to 95 pregnant women getting rubella, results in 9 miscarriages and 11 cases of congenital rubella syndrome.
  • in Japan in 2013, there were 14,357 cases of rubella and at least 31 cases of congenital rubella syndrome.

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