5 childhood diseases you’ve forgotten about because of vaccines
If you think you haven’t received a vaccine from this list, have a chat with your provider about ensuring you’re up to date.
As the U.S. works toward a 70% COVID-19 vaccination rate, the pandemic and vaccines continue to be a daily topic in the news. But other highly infectious and dangerous diseases no longer make headlines because vaccines have been so effective at decreasing these threats.
“The use of vaccines has led to major improvements in child health over the years,” says Dr. Drew Oliveira, senior executive medical director at Regence. “Some diseases that used to be common in this country can be prevented through routine vaccinations. However, in countries where not everyone gets a vaccine, it takes only one person to bring back an infectious disease and pass it along to someone who isn’t protected. By following the recommended vaccination schedule, we can help keep our children and communities safe.”
Here’s a look at some vaccine-preventable diseases that may be forgotten, but have not gone away. If you think you haven’t received a vaccine from this list, have a chat with your provider about ensuring you’re up to date.
Polio (short for poliomyelitis) is a disabling and life-threatening disease caused by the poliovirus. It was once very common and largely affected children younger than 5. The virus spreads easily from person to person and can infect a person’s spinal cord, causing paralysis so they can’t move parts of their body. The paralysis can be lifelong and, in severe cases, deadly.
Most people infected with poliovirus have no symptoms. Some (25 people out of 100) will have flu-like symptoms, which usually last two to five days. Even children who seem to fully recover can develop new muscle pain, weakness, or paralysis 15 to 40 years later.
Although polio is still a threat in other countries, vaccines have kept the U.S. polio-free for more than 30 years.
The Hepatitis A vaccine was developed in 1995 and since then, hepatitis A has become less common in the U.S. Hepatitis A is a contagious liver disease spread through person-to-person contact or through contaminated food and water. Children with the virus often don’t have symptoms, but they can pass the disease to others, including their unvaccinated parents or caregivers. These individuals can get very sick, with symptoms lasting up to six months.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates, as of 2018, about 862,000 people are living with hepatitis B in the U.S. Hepatitis B is a serious liver disease that is spread through blood or other bodily fluids. It’s especially dangerous for babies because mothers can unknowingly spread the disease to their babies during childbirth. About nine out of every 10 infants who contract it from their mothers become infected for life. Although people with lifelong hepatitis B usually don’t have symptoms, the virus causes liver damage over time and could lead to liver cancer.
Before the vaccine, most children had been infected with Rotavirus at least once by age 5. Rotavirus is a contagious disease that causes severe diarrhea and vomiting. These symptoms lead to dehydration, which can be dangerous, especially for babies and young children. Some children require hospitalization to replace lost fluids. Rotavirus is one of the first vaccines an infant can get, and it’s the best way to protect a child from the disease.
Each year, pneumococcal disease causes thousands of cases of pneumonia and ear infections in the U.S. Without vaccines, there would be many more cases. Pneumococcal disease ranges from mild (requiring no treatment) to serious and life-threatening. It causes ear infections, sinus infections, pneumonia and even meningitis, making it very dangerous (and sometimes life-threatening) for children.
Some strains of pneumococcal disease have become resistant to antibiotic treatment. This makes prevention of the disease, through vaccination, even more important.
Dr. Oliveira reminds us that vaccines play an essential role in eliminating disease throughout our population. “The viruses and bacteria that cause these infections still exist and can be dangerous to those who are not protected,” he says. “Vaccines are one of the safest and most convenient preventive care measures available.”
Thanks to vaccines, many serious childhood diseases aren’t as common as they used to be. However, the bacteria and germs that cause these diseases are still around. Here are other vaccine-preventable diseases that can easily spread to children who aren’t vaccinated:
- Whooping cough
If you wait until you think your child could be exposed to a serious illness — like when they start daycare or return to school in the fall — there may not be enough time for the vaccine to work. We suggest scheduling an appointment for your child’s vaccinations as soon as possible to ensure they get all their recommended doses and are fully protected.
Regence health plans cover most immunizations at 100% when you use an in-network provider. To find a doctor or clinic for you or your family, use our Find a Doctor tool. Be sure to sign in, so your results are based on your benefits.