Today’s guest blog entry is by Carol J. Baker, MD, FAAP, FIDSA, professor of pediatrics, molecular virology and microbiology at Baylor College of Medicine; and immediate past president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.
Nearly 60,000 Americans contracted paralytic polio in 1952. Today, polio has been eradicated in the United States, thanks to a vaccine. Preventing polio and other serious or life-threatening infections is one of the greatest public health achievements of all time. The persistent use of vaccines also led to the eradication of smallpox, and has significantly reduced the presence of other life-threatening diseases such as measles and German measles. But vaccinations only work when we get them, which is why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has named August National Immunization Awareness Month — to educate people about the seriousness of vaccine-preventable diseases and the importance of keeping up-to-date on recommended vaccinations throughout life.
Vaccine-preventable diseases claim the lives of approximately 50,000 Americans each year — more than HIV/AIDS, breast cancer or traffic accidents. Seasonal influenza is currently the leading cause of vaccine-preventable death in the United States, claiming the lives of about 36,000 people each year and putting around 200,000 people in the hospital. Most of these deaths are in the elderly, but the hospitalization rate in children age 2 years or younger is the same as in the elderly. Influenza also causes nearly 100 deaths each year in American children younger than 5 years of age. Most of these children were previously healthy. It is tragic when any child dies, especially when that death is preventable.
With influenza season approaching, now is the time to start planning to protect yourself and your family by getting everyone in your household immunized. A number of resources are available for information about influenza and other vaccine-preventable diseases. The Web site of the Childhood Influenza Immunization Coalition offers a Flu Risk Calculator to help people of all ages determine whether or not they should be vaccinated against influenza. To learn more about other vaccines and vaccine-preventable diseases, visit CDC’s vaccination page. For information on infectious diseases and prevention specific to adults, visit the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases’ Adult Vaccination Web site.
Decide today to protect yourself against infectious diseases — after all, an ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure, and even one life lost because prevention was ignored is a tragedy.