Tag: polio survivor

Milestones Towards the Eradication of Polio

There is a lot more interest in polio these days, but not because we are close to eradicating this deadly disease, but rather because of the emergence of cases of acute flaccid myelitis (AFM).

Although the cases have a different cause, the symptoms of AFM are the same that we used to see during the outbreaks of polio that used to hit each summer in the pre-vaccine era.

Polio

Surprisingly, in most people, the poliovirus doesn’t actually cause any symptoms. They simply have an asymptomatic infection.

In some others, the poliovirus causes flu-like symptoms, including a fever, sore throat, nausea, and a headache – symptoms that last about 3 to 5 days.

Much more rarely, the poliovirus causes meningitis or paralysis.

It is these cases of paralytic polio that most people are aware of and that panicked parents during summers in the 1940s and 50s.

In addition to respiratory problems (think iron lungs), polio causes muscle atrophy.
In addition to respiratory problems (think iron lungs), polio causes muscle atrophy. (CC BY-NC 4.0)

After having flu-like symptoms, those kids who would develop paralytic polio can develop pain and then flaccid paralysis.

“The most severe form, paralytic poliomyelitis, which is seen in less than 1% of patients, presents as excruciating episodes of pain in back and lower limbs. In children, the disease may present in biphasic form—a period of prodrome followed by a brief symptom-free period of 7 to 10 days and then appearance of asymmetrical paralysis of limbs. Flaccid paralysis is the hallmark with loss of deep tendon reflexes eventually.”

Mehndirattta et al on Poliomyelitis Historical Facts, Epidemiology, and Current Challenges in Eradication

Of course, polio wasn’t always called polio.

Other names have included infantile spinal paralysis, infantile paralysis, Heine-Medin disease, poliomyelitis anterior acuta, and acute anterior poliomyelitis.

The first use of the name “polio” came from Adolph Kussmaul, with his use of the term poliomyelitis anterior acuta, which was derived from the Greek polios “grey” and myelos “marrow” and itis “inflammation.” It was because he knew that it was caused by inflammation of the spinal cord gray matter, even if he didn’t know why.

Polio History

Polio didn’t just suddenly appear in the middle of the 20th century though, it was likely around for ages.

That this Ancient Egyptian priest's leg is smaller than the other and he uses a staff to walk suggests that he could have had polio.
That one of this Ancient Egyptian priest’s legs is smaller than the other and he uses a staff to walk could suggest that he had polio.

In addition to an Egyptian funeral stele (a stone slab used as a monument) portraying Roma the Doorkeeper from 1500 BCE that suggests he had paralytic polio, archeologists have found evidence of polio in skeletons as far back as the Neolithic period.

A medical book from 1789 likely describes people with polio.
A medical book from 1789 likely describes people with polio.

Still, we don’t really know how long polio has been around and we don’t know why we began to see more cases in the mid-20th Century, although there are theories, including, ironically, about hygiene. While we often credit improved sanitation and hygiene for helping to reduce mortality from many diseases, some think that this actually set us up for polio outbreaks, as we were no longer exposed as infants, when we still had some maternal immunity.

The one thing that we do know is that we are on the verge of eradicating polio, as there are very cases now, in just a few countries.

Polio Timeline and Milestones

In addition to the more ancient discoveries about polio, there is a lot to learn about vaccines and vaccine-preventable diseases if we look at the major milestones of this important disease.

Although in the end it is a success story, the road to figuring out what caused polio symptoms and how polio could be prevented was very long.

  • Michael Underwood describes what is thought to be paralytic polio in his book A Treatise on the Diseases of Children, with General Directions for the Management of Infants from Birth  in a section on “Debility of the Lower Extremities” (1789)
  • first reported outbreak of polio in Worksop, England (1835)
  • Jacob von Heine, head of an orthopedic hospital in Germany, publishes a monograph that describes 29 cases of paralytic polio, and actually attributes the condition to inflammation of the anterior horns of the spinal cord, although the cause was still not known (1840)
  • first use of the term poliomyelitis by Adolph Kussmaul (1874)
  • Nils August Bergenholtz reports on an outbreak of paralytic polio in Sweden (1881)
  • Karl-Oskar Medin, a pediatrician who reported on a polio epidemic in Sweden (1887), later presents his findings at the Tenth International Conference in Berlin (1890)
  • the first major outbreak in the United States is documented in Rutland County, Vermont and causes 132 cases of paralysis and 18 deaths (1894)
  • Ivar Wickman tracks cases of polio during an epidemic in Sweden in 1905 and was the first to suggest that polio was contagious and that you could get it from “those afflicted with the abortive type” (1907)
  • although they don’t actually identify the poliovirus, Dr. Karl Landsteiner and Dr. Erwin Popper  identify that a virus causes polio when they inject material from the spinal cord of a child who had recently died with polio into the peritoneum of two monkeys, both of which soon developed paralytic polio (1908)
  • Simon Flexner, first discovers polio antibodies (1911), but unlike other researchers at the time, pushes the theory that polio was spread by the olfactory route, instead of the fecal-oral route, which was why we saw the development of nose sprays, etc., to try and prevent polio, none of which worked of course
  • a large polio epidemic in the United States causes at least 27,000 cases and 6,000 deaths (1916)
  • Philip Drinker and Louis Agassiz Shaw invent the first iron lung, the Drinker respirator (1929)
  • Frank M. Burnet and Jean Macnamara proposed that there were antigenically different strains of poliovirus (1931)
  • John R. Paul and James D. Trask help figure out how polio was spread by identifying the polio virus in human waste and sewage samples (1932)
  • Maurice Brodie and John Kolmer have unsuccessful field trials of early polio vaccines, including allergic reactions and vaccine induced polio because of poor attenuation (1935)
  • Sister Elizabeth Kenny establishes a clinic in Australia to treat polio survivors (1932) and later publishes her treatment recommendations, Infantile Paralysis and Cerebral Diplegia (1937)
  • the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis is founded by FDR to stop polio (1937)
  • the first March of Dimes fundraisers to stop polio (1938)
  • Carl Kling found traces of the poliovirus in the Stockholm sewage system (1942)
  • the Sister Kenny Institute is built in Minneapolis, as her treatment methods become widely accepted after years of controversy (1942)
  • the U.S. Army Neurotropic Virus Commission, including Albert Sabin, gets a grant from the NFIP to study polio in North Africa (1943)
  • Isabel Morgan actually developed the first inactivated polio vaccine, but only tested it on monkeys (1949)
  • John Enders, with T. H. Weller and F. C. Robbins, received the Nobel Prize in 1954 for their work on the cultivation of the poliomyelitis viruses (1949)
  • David Bodian creates the monkey model using field isolates of poliovirus and with Jonas Salk, identifies the three poliovirus serotyes (1950s)
  • Hilary Koprowki develops the first oral, live polio vaccine, (1950) although Sabin’s vaccine eventually gets licensed because it is thought to be less neurovirulent in monkeys and undergoes more testing
  • there are 58,000 cases of paralytic polio in the United States (1952)
  • Renato Dulbecco, with Marguerite Vogt, successfully grows and purifies polio virus (1952)
  • the Polio Pioneers vaccine field trial, led by Thomas Francis Jr.,  that proves that Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine is safe and effective begins (1954)
  • Jonas Salk gets approval for his polio vaccine (1955)
  • improperly inactivated polio vaccine from Cutter Laboratories (Cutter Incident) causes 40,000 cases of polio, 200 cases of paralysis, and kills ten people (1955)
  • Albert Sabin develops the first live, oral polio vaccine, which replaced Jonas Salk’s inactivated polio vaccine (1961)
  • that polio survivors can develop new, late complications or post-polio syndrome begins to get reported (1969)
  • last endemic case of polio in the United States (1979)
  • the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis officially changes its name to the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation (1979)
  • the World Health Assembly adopts a resolution for the worldwide eradication of polio by 2000 and the the Global Polio Eradication Initiative is launched (1988)
  • last imported case of polio in the United States (1993)
  • the WHO Region of the Americas is declared polio free (1994)
  • “last” case of VAPP that was acquired in the United States (1999)
  • wild poliovirus type 2 eradicated (1999)
  • the WHO Western Pacific Region is declared polio free (2000)
  • the United States switches back to using the an inactivated polio vaccine because of concerns over VAPP (2000)
  • the WHO European Region is declared polio free (2002)
  • outbreak of vaccine derived polio among a group of unvaccinated Amish in Minnesota (2005)
  • last case of VAPP that was acquired outside the United States, an unvaccinated 22-year-old U.S. college student who became infected with polio vaccine virus while traveling in Costa Rica in a university-sponsored study-abroad program (2005)
  • last case of VAPP, a patient with a long-standing combined immunodeficiency who was probably infected in the late 1990s (2009)
  • seasonal reports of acute flaccid myelitis in the late summer and early fall, which might be caused by a non-polio enterovirus, are reminiscent of polio epidemics in the early part of the 20th century (2014)
  • Bob Sears says that it is okay to delay the polio vaccine on his alternative vaccine schedule because “we don’t have polio in the United States” (2015)
  • a global switch from trivalent OPV to bivalent OPV in routine immunization programs (2016)
  • polio remains endemic in just three countries, Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan (2018)

So it should be clear, that despite what some folks think, polio wasn’t conquered overnight. And Salk and Sabin obviously had a lot of help, although those are the names we most commonly hear connected with polio eradication.

“Until poliovirus transmission is interrupted in these countries, all countries remain at risk of importation of polio, especially vulnerable countries with weak public health and immunization services and travel or trade links to endemic countries.”

Global Polio Eradication Initiative on Endemic Countries

And to be clear, polio hasn’t yet been conquered.

There is still some work to do unless we want to see cases of polio and paralytic polio return.

That’s why it is important that you don’t skip your child’s vaccines, even for diseases that we don’t have in the United States anymore.

More on the History of Polio

Complications of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases

We know that vaccine-preventable diseases can be life-threatening.

In the pre-vaccine era, when these diseases were much more common, way too many people died, but still, most people did recover.

They didn’t always survive without complications though.

Tragically, we are starting to see more of these complications as more kids are now getting some of these vaccine-preventable diseases again.

Complications of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases

That we can prevent these serious complications is another benefit of getting vaccinated!

How serious?

Have you ever seen someone who has survived a meningococcal infection?

Do they always have all of their arms and legs?

How about their fingers and toes?

"Baby" Charlotte survived her battle with meningococcemia and continues to take on new challenges!
“Baby” Charlotte survived her battle with meningococcemia and continues to take on new challenges!

There is a reason that we say that you have to earn your natural immunity. You have to survive these diseases to get it. And you want to survive without any long-term complications, which can include:

  1. chicken pox – shingles, secondary bacterial infections, pneumonia, meningitis, encephalitis, seizures, transverse myelitis, Reye syndrome, neonatal varicella, congenital varicella syndrome
  2. congenital rubella syndrome – neonatal death, heart problems, deafness, cataracts, intellectual disability, liver and spleen damage, glaucoma, thyroid problems
  3. diphtheria – myocarditis, heart failure, nerve damage, muscle paralysis
  4. Haemophilus influenzae type b – meningitis, epiglottitis, pneumonia, osteomyelitis, cellulitis, hearing loss, brain damage, loss of limbs
  5. hepatitis A – can rarely lead to liver failure
  6. hepatitis B – chronic hepatitis B, cirrhosis, liver failure, liver cancer
  7. HPV – genital warts, cancer
  8. influenza – parotitis, pneumonia, myocarditis, encephalitis, myositis, rhabdomyolysis, multi-organ failure
  9. measles –pneumonia, seizures, encephalitis, SSPE
  10. mumps – orchitis (inflammation of the testicles), oophoritis (inflammation of the ovaries), pancreatitis, meningitis, encephalitis
  11. pneumococcal disease – pneumonia, mastoiditis, meningitis, bacteremia, sepsis, empyema, pericarditis, hearing loss, brain damage
  12. pertussis – pneumonia, seizures, apnea, encephalopathy, rib fractures
  13. polio – meningitis, paralysis, post-polio syndrome
  14. rabies – it is very rare to survive a rabies infection without treatment
  15. rotavirus – dehydration, intussusception
  16. rubella – arthritis, congenital rubella syndrome
  17. shingles – postherpetic neuralgia, pneumonia, hearing problems, blindness, encephalitis
  18. tetanus – seizures, laryngospasm, fractures, pulmonary embolism, aspiration pneumonia
  19. typhoid fever – intestinal perforation, internal bleeding, peritonitis, hepatitis, osteomyelitis, arthritis, meningitis, myocarditis,
  20. yellow fever – pneumonia, parotitis, sepsis

Anti-vaccine folks rarely talk about the complications of vaccine-preventable diseases. For that matter, they also often push the idea that vaccines don’t even work and that these diseases aren’t even vaccine preventable, don’t they?

Don’t believe them. Vaccines work and they are safe and necessary, especially if you want to avoid these diseases.

More on Complications of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases

Vaccine Movies and Videos

All of the attention that Robert De Niro gave the movie Vaxxed has many people realizing that there are anti-vaccine movies out there.

Promoted as documentaries, they mostly include the same anti-vaccine ‘experts’ that scare parents away from vaccinating their kids on the Internet.

These types of movies include:

  • Vaxxed
  • The Greater Good
  • Trace Amounts
  • Who Killed Alex Spourdalakis?
  • Bought
  • Man Made Epidemic
  • Sacrificial Virgins
  • The Truth About Vaccines

Most are propaganda, without even a trace amount of truth in them, and should not be used as a research tool to help you make a decision about vaccines.

Vaccine Movies and Documentaries

What about movies to actually help you get educated about vaccines?

Every Last Child takes a look at the fight to end polio in Pakistan.
Every Last Child takes a look at the fight to end polio in Pakistan.

Watch these movies and documentaries:

Have you seen or heard about any of these movies about vaccines?

Vaccine Videos

Just as bad as so-called vaccine documentaries, many of the vaccine videos that you find on You-Tube are also filled with misinformation and propaganda, including many vaccine scare videos.

Where are you Jon Stewart? Measles is still around...
Where are you Jon Stewart? Measles is still around…

Watch the following vaccines videos instead:

Still have questions?

More on Vaccine Movies and Videos

Did Modern Ventilators Replace the Iron Lung for Folks with Polio?

Believe it or not, some folks don’t think that vaccines work and that some diseases, like smallpox and polio, never really went away.

Residual paralysis that lasts more than 60 days is the strongest predictor that a case is really polio, which is why, in addition to testing for polio virus, the 60 day standard is used.
Want the real truth? Residual paralysis that lasts more than 60 days is the strongest predictor that a case is really polio, which is why, in addition to testing for polio virus, the 60 day standard is used.

Of course, they have special little theories for how this all works.

Did Modern Ventilators Replace the Iron Lung for Folks with Polio?

In addition to thinking that we just change the names of diseases when we want them to go away, some folks think that we don’t see anyone in iron lungs anymore, not because polio has been eliminated, but because modern ventilators simply replaced the iron lung.

Is that true?

The iron lung, invented in 1927, helped people with polio breath.

In fact, in the 1940s and 1950s, there were whole hospital wards full of polio patients in iron lungs.

Unlike most of today’s ventilators, the iron lung is a negative pressure ventilator. In contrast, most modern ventilators, the ones that you see people hooked up to with a tube going down to their lungs, are positive pressure ventilators.

Iron Lung

What’s the difference?

A positive pressure ventilator pushes air into your lungs. They are useful when you have a lung disease or simply can’t breath on your own.

When people had polio, there usually wasn’t anything wrong with their lungs – it was their chest muscles and diaphragm that were the problem. So the negative pressure in the iron lung would compress and decompress their chest.

One benefit of the iron lung included that it was less invasive than ventilating someone through a tracheostomy, which became an option in the 1960s. While many new options became available for those needing long term ventilation since then, including noninvasive positive pressure ventilation, some still like to use their iron lungs.

Thanks to vaccines, most folks will only see an iron lung in a museum and read about polio in history books.
Thanks to vaccines, most folks will only see an iron lung in a museum and read about polio in history books. Photo by Oscar Tarragó, M.D., M.P.H.

And while it is true that they don’t make them anymore, iron lungs have not disappeared. There are some folks with polio that still use them.

But what if someone developed polio now, would they be put in an iron lung?

No, they wouldn’t. For one thing, they don’t make iron lungs anymore. Instead, they would likely use mouth intermittent positive pressure ventilation.

Still, we don’t see a lot of folks getting diagnosed with polio, needing to use mouth intermittent positive pressure ventilation, instead of iron lungs these days. And that’s because we don’t see a lot of folks getting diagnosed with polio.

Vaccines work. Polio is almost eradicated.

What to Know About Polio, Modern Ventilators and Iron Lungs

Although some people with polio are still using their iron lungs, the main reason we don’t see more people with polio needing to use iron lungs or modern ventilators is simply because polio is almost eradicated.

More on Ventilators and Iron Lungs

The Myth That Polio Only Went Away Because They Changed the Way It Was Diagnosed

Have you heard this one?

“Before the vaccine was developed, the diagnosis of polio required 24 or more hours of paralysis. After the vaccine release, the diagnosis changed to at least 60 days of paralysis. As you can imagine, cases of polio dropped significantly.”

So that’s why polio went away?

It wasn’t the vaccine?

The Myth That Polio Went Away Because They Changed the Diagnostic Criteria

In 1952, there were 21,000 cases of paralytic polio in the United States.

But were there really?

Didn’t they change the way they diagnosed polio a few years later, right after the first polio vaccines came out, making it less likely that folks would be diagnosed with polio?

The original diagnostic criteria for polio came from the World Health Organization and included:

“Signs and symptoms of nonparalytic poliomyelitis with the addition of partial or complete paralysis of one or more muscle groups, detected on two examinations at least 24 hours apart.”

It changed in 1955 to include residual paralysis 10 to 20 days after onset of illness and again 50 to 70 days after onset.

Why?

“In the past children’s paralysis was often not correctly diagnosed as polio. Stool samples need to be analyzed to be able to distinguish paralytic symptoms from Guillain-Barré Syndrome, transverse myelitis, or traumatic neuritis.”

Polio – Data Quality and Measurement

But you coulld’t just use stool samples, as many kids might have recently had non-paralytic polio, and could test positive for polio (false positive test), but have another reason to have paralysis.

“Isolation of poliovirus is helpful but not necessary to confirm a case of paralytic poliomyelitis, and isolation of poliovirus itself does not confirm diagnosis.”

Alexander et al. on Vaccine Policy Changes and Epidemiology of Poliomyelitis in the United States

Since polio causes residual paralysis, the new diagnostic criteria helped to make sure that kids were diagnosed correctly.

Did We Overestimate the Number of Kids with Polio?

Some folks think that since we changed the criteria, we overestimated the number of kids with polio in the years before the vaccine came out.

Most of this idea seems to come from a panel discussion in 1960 by critics of the original polio vaccine, The Present Status of Polio Vaccines, including two, Dr. Herald R. Cox and Dr. Herman Kleinman, who were working on a competing live-virus vaccine.

None in the group were arguing against vaccines, or even really, that the Salk polio vaccine didn’t work at all though. They just didn’t think that it was effective as some folks thought.

“I’ve talked long enough. The only other thing I can say is that the live poliovirus vaccine is coming. It takes time. The one thing I am sure of in this life is that the truth always wins out.”

Dr. Herald R. Cox on The Present Status of Polio Vaccines

Dr. Cox did talk a lot about the oral polio vaccine. He talked about successful trials in Minneapolis, Nicaragua, Finland, West Germany, France, Spain, Canada, Japan, and Costa Rica, etc.

When anti-vaccine folks cherry pick quotes from The Present Status of Polio Vaccines discussion panel, they seem to leave out all of the stuff about how well the oral polio vaccine works.

That’s how they work to scare parents and hope that their anti-vaccine myths and misinformation can win out over the truth that vaccines work and that they are safe and necessary.

“Since nothing is available, there seems to be no alternative but to push the use of it. I don’t think we should do so in ignorance, nor too complacently, believing that as long as we have something partially effective there is no need to have something better.”

Dr. Bernard Greenberg on The Present Status of Polio Vaccines

And of course, they did, fairly soon, switch to something better – the Sabin live-virus oral polio vaccine.

Interestingly, using the idea that we changed the diagnostic criteria to make polio go away in an argument about vaccines is known as the Greenberg Gambit.

It tells you something about anti-vaccine arguments, that these folks are misinterpreting something someone said about vaccines almost 60 years ago.

In pushing the idea that polio hasn’t been eliminated, but rather just redefined, they also miss that:

But isn’t polio still around and just renamed as transverse myelitis, Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), and aseptic meningitis?

Let’s do the math.

Using the adjusted numbers in the The Present Status of Polio Vaccines discussion, there were at about 6,000 cases of paralytic polio in the United States in 1959.

While 3,000 to 6,000 people in the United States develop Guillain-Barré syndrome each year, the risk increases with age, and it is rare in young kids. Remember, paralytic polio mostly affected younger children, typically those under age 5 years.

“Transverse myelitis can affect people of any age, gender, or race. It does not appear to be genetic or run in families. A peak in incidence rates (the number of new cases per year) appears to occur between 10 and 19 years and 30 and 39 years.”

Transverse Myelitis Fact Sheet

Similarly, transverse myelitis is uncommon in younger children, and there are even fewer cases, about 1,400 a year.

What about aseptic meningitis? That doesn’t usually cause paralysis.

So do the math.

You aren’t going to find that many kids (remember, the incidence was 5-7 per 1,000) under age 5 years who really have “polio,” but instead, because of a worldwide conspiracy about vaccines, are getting diagnosed with transverse myelitis, Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), or aseptic meningitis instead.

Anyway, kids with acute flaccid paralysis are thoroughly tested to make sure they don’t have polio. And both transverse myelitis and Guillain-Barré syndrome have different signs and symptoms from paralytic polio. Unlike polio, which as asymmetric muscle atrophy, the atrophy in transverse myelitis and Guillain-Barré syndrome is symmetrical. Also, unlike those other conditions that cause AFP, with polio, nerve conduction velocity tests and electromyography testing will be abnormal. Plus, polio typically starts with a fever. The other conditions don’t.  So while these conditions might all be included in a differential diagnosis for someone with AFP, they are not usually that hard to distinguish.

“Each case of AFP should be followed by a diagnosis to find its cause. Within 14 days of the onset of AFP two stool samples should be collected 24 to 48 hours apart and need to be sent to a GPEI accredited laboratory to be tested for the poliovirus.”

Polio – Data Quality and Measurement

But why be so strict on following up on every case of AFP?

It’s very simple.

If you miss a case of polio, then it could lead to many more cases of polio. And that would tmake it very hard to eradicate polio in an area.

If anything, until the establishment of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) in 1988, it is thought that cases of polio and paralytic polio were greatly underestimated in many parts of the world!

And now polio is almost eradicated.

“DR. SABIN: Let us agree, at least, that things are not being brushed aside. Let us say that we might disagree on the extent to which certain things have received study. But I hope that Dr. Bodian realizes that nobody is brushing things aside. I would not have taken the trouble of spending several months studying viremia with different strains in chimpanzees and human volunteers, and viremia produced by certain low temperature mutants to correlate it with their invasive capacity, if I were merely brushing it aside.”

Live Polio Vaccines – Papers Presented and Discussions Held at the First International Conference on Live Poliovirus Vaccines

There is no conspiracy.

Think about it.

If they redefined how paralytic polio was diagnosed in 1955 as part of a conspiracy to make it look like the polio vaccines were working, then why did the number of cases continue to drop into the 1960s?

Shouldn’t they have just dropped in 1955 and then stayed at the same lower level?

After the switch to the Sabin vaccine, polio was on its way to being eliminated in the United States.
After the switch to the Sabin vaccine, polio was on its way to being eliminated in the United States, although there was an uptick in 1959, before we made the switch.

And why don’t any of the folks with other conditions that cause paralysis, like transverse myelitis and Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) ever have polio virus in their system when they are tested?

Also, if the renaming theory explains why the polio vaccine didn’t work, then why do anti-vaccine folks also need to push misinformation about DDT and polio?

What to Know About Polio Myths and Conspiracies

The near eradication of polio from the world is one of the big success stories of the modern era, just as those who push the idea that has all been faked is a snapshot of society at one of our low points.

More on Polio Myths and Conspiracies

Personal Stories About Vaccine-Preventable Diseases

Parents these days seem to get bombarded with vaccine injury stories and videos on Facebook.

Is that because vaccines cause so many bad reactions?

Of course not.

It’s because some folks think that everything that happens to their kids is a vaccine injury.

Personal Stories About Vaccine-Preventable Diseases

If you are going to watch those videos and listen to their stories, getting scared in the process, be sure to also listen to the stories of parents who’s kids have suffered through actually getting a vaccine-preventable disease.

While it’s great that these diseases are much less common because most people vaccinate and protect their kids, one side effect of that progress is that we don’t have many reminders of just how terrible these diseases are anymore.Have you ever seen a baby with congenital rubella syndrome?

Or a child with tetanus or diphtheria?

Have you ever even seen photos of these diseases?

Will you read these stories of parents who have lost a child to a vaccine-preventable disease.

“Kimberly Coffey was buried three days before her high school graduation in the prom dress she didn’t get to wear. She didn’t have the opportunity to be vaccinated against Meningitis B.”

Kim’s Meningitis Story

In Kimberly‘s case, the Men B vaccine wasn’t yet available, but in many other cases, parents have shared their stories of unvaccinated children who suffered with a disease that was vaccine preventable at the time.

“From 2010 to 2016, young children continued to be at the greatest risk for influenza-associated pediatric deaths. Children without preexisting medical conditions accounted for half of all deaths. Vaccination coverage was low among influenza-associated pediatric deaths.”

Shang et al. on Influenza-Associated Pediatric Deaths in the United States, 2010–2016

Tragically, there are also many flu stories.

But the flu isn’t the only vaccine-preventable disease that still harms children.

This family didn't have a choice about their son getting sick - he was too young to be vaccinated when he was exposed to an unvaccinated child with measles.
This family didn’t have a choice about their son getting sick – he was too young to be vaccinated when he was exposed to an unvaccinated child with measles

There are other diseases. Other stories.

Read these stories.

Listen to these parents.

Are the stories supposed to scare you into vaccinating your kids?

Of course not. Just like you shouldn’t let the myths and propaganda from the anti-vaccinate movement scare you away from vaccinating and protecting your kids.

Instead of being motivated by fear, you should make your decision because you understand that the many benefits of vaccines are far greater than their small risks.

What to Know About Vaccine-Preventable Disease Stories

Reading stories of vaccine-preventable diseases are a good reminder that these diseases are not so mild as some folks suggest, and they are instead life-threatening diseases that are best avoided by getting fully vaccinated.

More Vaccine-Preventable Disease Stories

Do You Know What Vaccine-Preventable Diseases Look Like?

Odds are that you have never seen anyone with smallpox, but what about measles or mumps?

No?

Have you ever even seen someone with chicken pox?

Photos of Vaccine-Preventable Disease

Maybe if more folks knew what typical vaccine-preventable diseases looked like, then they wouldn’t be so quick to think about skipping or delaying their kids vaccines.

And they certainly wouldn’t think that these are mild diseases that they wanted their kids to get, thinking natural immunity would be better than the immunity that they could more easily and safely get from a vaccine.

Severe dehydration in a child with a rotavirus infection.
Severe dehydration in a child with a rotavirus infection.

Kids with diphtheria develop a bull neck and a thick pseudomembrane that covers their throat.
Kids with diphtheria develop a bull neck and a thick pseudomembrane that covers their throat. Photo by the Japanese Society of Tropical Medicine

Can an unvaccinated child really get tetanus after a toe nail injury?
Can an unvaccinated child really get tetanus after a toe nail injury? Photo by Petrus Rudolf de Jong (CC BY 3.0)

Newborns and infants have the highest rates of death from pertussis.
Newborns and infants have the highest rates of death from pertussis or whooping cough.

An infant with measles during the 2014 outbreaks in the Philippines.
An infant with measles during the 2014 outbreaks in the Philippines. Photo by Jim Goodson, M.P.H.

Mumps causes kids to have fever, puffy cheeks, and a painful, swollen jaw.
Mumps causes kids to have fever, puffy cheeks, and a painful, swollen jaw.

A baby with a congenital cataract and blueberry muffin rash - classic signs of congenital rubella syndrome.
A baby with a congenital cataract and blueberry muffin rash – classic signs of congenital rubella syndrome. (CC BY-NC-SA)

In addition to respiratory problems (think iron lungs), polio causes muscle atrophy.
In addition to respiratory problems (think iron lungs), polio causes muscle atrophy. (CC BY-NC 4.0)

This 2016 hepatitis A outbreak linked to frozen strawberries led to 143 cases and 56 hospitalizations.
This 2016 hepatitis A outbreak linked to frozen strawberries led to 143 cases and 56 hospitalizations.

Chronic hepatitis B is a silent killer.
Chronic hepatitis B is a silent killer.

A papilloma caused by HPV on the vocal cords of a child with recurrent respiratory papillomatosis.
A papilloma caused by HPV on the vocal cords of a child with recurrent respiratory papillomatosis. (CC BY 4.0)

Even if they survive, kids can lose fingers, toes, or even arms and legs to meningococcemia.
Even if they survive, kids can lose fingers, toes, or even arms and legs to meningococcal disease.

In addition to pneumonia and meningitis, the Hib bacteria can cause epiglottitis, making it very difficult to breath.
In addition to pneumonia and meningitis, the Hib bacteria can cause epiglottitis, making it very difficult to breath. Seen here are the ‘thumb sign’ on X-ray and the cherry red epiglottis.

Before wide use of the Hib and Prevnar vaccines, infants with fever would routinely get spinal taps and you would hope for clear fluid (cloudy fluid could be a sign of a bacterial infection).
Before wide use of the pneumococcal vaccines, infants with fever would routinely a get spinal tap to make sure that they didn’t have bacterial meningitis.

If a mother get chicken pox late in her pregnancy, her baby will be exposed before he is born and will develop chicken pox, often severe, in his first week of life.
If a mother get chicken pox late in her pregnancy, then her baby will be exposed before he is born and will develop chicken pox, often severe, in his first week of life. (CC by 3.0)

Although rare, even infants can develop shingles, most commonly if their mothers had a chicken pox infection while pregnant.
Although rare, even infants can develop shingles, most commonly if their mothers had a chicken pox infection while pregnant. (CC by 3.0)

Never touch a bat that you find on the ground during the day, as it might have rabies.
Animals acting strangely may have rabies. Photo by Radu Privantu (CC BY 2.0)

As in most years, flu deaths in children mostly occurred in kids who weren't vaccinated.
As in most years, flu deaths in children mostly occurred in kids who weren’t vaccinated.

Two kids with smallpox - one vaccinated and one unvaccinated. Can you guess which is which?
Two kids with smallpox – one vaccinated and one unvaccinated. Can you guess which is which?

Surprisingly, treatments haven't changed much since this photo was taken of a patient with yellow fever in 1898.
Surprisingly, treatments haven’t changed much since this photo was taken of a patient with yellow fever in 1898.

Mary Mallon (Typhoid Mary) was quarantined because she continued to work as a cook, spreading Salmonella typhi bacteria to other people.
Mary Mallon (Typhoid Mary) was quarantined because she continued to work as a cook, spreading Salmonella Typhi bacteria to other people.

Japanese encephalitis is spread by mosquito bites.
Japanese encephalitis is spread by mosquito bites.

I know what some of you are thinking. And no, just because these vaccine-preventable diseases aren’t as common as they used to be doesn’t mean that any of these vaccines aren’t necessary.

Why not?

We don’t see them as much as we did in the pre-vaccine era simply because these vaccines work!

“I also warn them not to share their fears with their neighbors, because if too many people avoid the MMR, we’ll likely see the diseases increase significantly.”

Dr. Bob Sears in The Vaccine Book

We all know what happens if we stop vaccinating.

And it is not just that we get a few updated photos of kids with measles, mumps, diphtheria, and other vaccine-preventable diseases…

More on Photos of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases