Ahhh, summer vacation is coming. Passport? Airline tickets? Three 1oz containers? Zipper-lock bag? Sunblock? Camera? Vaccination status?
Summer is typically the busiest time for vacationers to explore new territories, or even old ones. Granted, the economy has replaced some travelers’ grand plans with much more modest ones, but many are still planning trips to Mexico and other foreign destinations. The summer is also a big time for missionary groups to head to underserved areas to provide assistance and medical care. The events of September 11th have forever changed travel for the United States and countries all over the world. There is now a new concern…..your vaccination status!
According to the Centers for Disease Control, the United States is experiencing its largest outbreak of measles in 15 years! USA Today reported a record 118 cases of confirmed measles in the USA between January 1 and May 20 of this year, mostly acquired abroad by unvaccinated individuals and brought back to the States. Measles was reported to have been “eradicated” from the USA as of the year 2000 due mostly to the efforts of immunization, but measles is still prevalent in other parts of the world.
Over 42,000 cases were diagnosed in an outbreak among young adults in Brazil in 1997! Third-world countries are not the only ones affected; over 7,500 cases have been diagnosed in France between January and March of this year, according to the CDC! And the outbreaks continue across most countries of Europe. Failure to vaccinate and receive periodic “booster shots” to provide immunity allows the virus to infect that individual who then gets sick. Since the virus is spread via respiratory droplets (coughing and sneezing), public modes of transportation allow for contact with infected individuals.
Measles is NOT just a rash!
According to the Associated Press, 2 of every 5 of these 118 patients required hospitalization; none died, but measles can have deadly consequences. Worldwide, measles causes nearly 800,000 deaths annually, mostly in small children. Some of the bad consequences include encephalitis characterized by vomiting, seizures, coma and even death; of those who survive this, approximately one-third are left with permanent neurologic deficits.
Once the spots are gone…
Interestingly, there is a late complication of measles infection, called subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE), that occurs from 5 to 15 years after the acute infection; the virus causes a slow degeneration of the brain and central nervous system long after the initial infection. Measles can also cause bronchiolitis or bronchopneumonia, and it can be associated with secondary bacterial infections due to the depleted immune system that occurs while fighting the virus.
Measles is NOT the only vaccine-preventable disease available for infection!
There have been recent outbreaks of mumps, another viral disease that has potential complications of pancreatitis, orchitis and even meningitis and encephalitis.
There have been outbreaks of Bordetella pertussis (part of the DPT vaccine), otherwise known as “whooping cough.” Pertussis can severely affect young children under 2 years, but it affects adults as well. Since the vaccine does not impart lifelong immunity, adults become a reservoir for this disease, unless a booster shot is given, and the adults spread the disease to unvaccinated children.
Haemophilus influenza type B, known as HIB, can cause typical cases of upper respiratory infections, sinusitis and otitis media (common ear infection); it can also cause epiglottitis, a potentially fatal infection of the epiglottis. The epiglottis is a flap of tissue that acts like a valve, protecting our airway when we eat and swallow food. This “valve” swells up so large from the infection that it can totally obstruct the airway and prevent a child from breathing; it is a medical emergency that can require emergent tracheostomy! An HIB vaccine has been available for years, and this infectious culprit had nearly been eradicated, as well, in the USA. The anti-vaccine movement has produced many children, adolescents and even young adults who have never received this vaccine - et voila….there is a resurgence of HIB and Haemophilus epiglottitis.
Hepatitis B is a virus (HBV) for which a vaccine has also been available for over 20 years. It is a 3-shot regimen, but it also requires that titers be drawn after vaccination to prove immunity. HBV can be transmitted through sexual contact or any exchange of body fluids, including contaminated food in rare instances. Although the human body can fight some cases of HBV, other cases become chronic and lead to liver failure and/or liver cancer. Wouldn’t you know it? May is “Hepatitis Awareness Month” for the CDC!
There are plenty more vaccines available for a multitude of viral, bacterial and other infectious agents. Additionally, there are immunoglobulin shots that can address other infectious conditions and act as prophylaxis during your time abroad.
The Moral of the Story
Check your own vaccination status first. If you are not sure, your doctor can do blood tests to determine if you are immune to specific infectious agents…even the chicken pox virus! Secondly, take the time to check the CDC website (www.cdc.gov) for infections endemic to the area to which you are traveling. Follow guidelines offered for disease prevention and possible vaccines, medications or immunoglobulins available.
Be aware and be prepared! Protect yourself and those near and dear to you!