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Arsenel of immunizations

With resurgent diseases, doctors urge parents to have childre inoculated

With resurgent diseases, doctors urge parents to have childre inoculated

July 03, 2006|by MEG H. PARTINGTON

While health officials worldwide strategize ways to prevent a bird-flu pandemic, the average person might not worry about the threat that childhood diseases pose to their families and society as a whole.

Immunizations have eliminated diseases such as polio from the U.S. and made others that once commonly killed children rare. But there is no room for complacency in public health, says Dr. Greg Lyon-Loftus with Mont Alto (Pa.) Family Practice.

"We take it for granted that these things aren't going to happen today," Lyon-Loftus says.

Yet there's a resurgence in mumps in Pennsylvania, he says.

And a recent outbreak of whooping cough, or pertussis, in Jefferson County, W.Va., further illustrates the importance of immunizations, says Dr. Sarah Moerschel, a pediatrician with Harpers Ferry (W.Va.) Family Medicine. The only documented cases of the illness have been in children who had not received the pertussis vaccine, she says.

Doctors are most concerned about children younger than 1 year old getting whooping cough because it can lead to respiratory distress and death, she says.

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Those who travel a lot definitely should opt for immunizations, says Dr. Laura Henderson with Smithsburg Family Medical Center.

Just because a disease might not exist or is rare in the U.S. doesn't mean a person won't be exposed to it elsewhere.

"It's not the same in every other country," Henderson says.

Also, if there is an epidemic in a part of the U.S. to which a family is traveling, immunizations against that disease are paramount, she says.

"Vaccinations protect children, family members and the community at large," Moerschel says.

"Nothing works better than immunization," Lyon-Loftus says, adding that it is the most cost-effective way to protect one's health. "If we can get rid of certain of these nasty killers ... then we can relax."

Lessons in resistance



The immune system knows the difference between "you and not you," Lyon-Loftus says. Anything it knows is not part of your body's typical workings will be attacked, he says.

"The immune system makes a Pac-Man antibody for every single antigen," Lyon-Loftus says. Antigens are substances such as proteins and toxins against which the body reacts.

When an immunization is administered, he says it gives the body "a wanted poster for the most common, devastating diseases to mankind."

"The immune system is educable," Lyon-Loftus says.

So are the people who make the decisions about whether they - and their children - will be immunized.

Reports that link immunizations with asthma, autism, learning disabilities and other serious problems have made some parents resistant to building their children's resistance.

"They hear all the things on TV, the Internet," Henderson says.

The most recent debate has raged over the safety of the mumps, measles and rubella (MMR) vaccine. Some researchers believe Thimerosal, a compound containing mercury that is used as a preservative in the vaccine, can cause autism.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Thimerosal has been removed from children's vaccines, except for trace amounts, and current scientific evidence does not support the hypothesis that the MMR vaccine, or any combination of vaccines, causes autism.

Area doctors ease parents' concerns by educating them.

"I think it's important to provide parents with the available and accurate information about the vaccinations," Moerschel says.

She refers parents to reputable Web sites so they can read about immunizations and diseases. Among those she recommends are www.vaccine.chop.edu (the Vaccine Education Center of The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia); www.immunize.org (Immunization Action Coalition); and www.cdc.gov (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

Lyon-Loftus says some of the parents of his patients say they don't want to put "bad stuff" in their children's bodies.

He tries to dispel myths: "You can't get measles from the measles shot. You can't get mumps from the mumps shot," Lyon-Loftus says, because they contain killed, not live, viruses.

Sometimes parents still opt not to have their children immunized, which can put doctors in a tough spot.

So they don't expose other patients to potential disease, Henderson says some physicians refuse to provide medical care to patients who opt out of immunizations. They also fear putting their patients at risk of severe illness and death if they do not inoculate, she says.

Others, like Moerschel, agree to disagree.

"Someone has to take care of them. You can't force people to do things," she says.

"It is a personal decision for parents to make," Moerschel says, adding that most parents who have been resistant to having their children inoculated usually agree to it after being given up-to-date information.

Not a one-shot deal



While there is no limit to the number of shots children can receive in one visit, Henderson says that to be humane, she will not administer more than four at a time.

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