August 28, 2007 > The Best Protection is Still Prevention
The Best Protection is Still Prevention
Vaccinations Play Vital Role in Protecting You from Diseases
Over the past several decades, vaccinations have become a victim of their own success, according to Dr. Steven Curran, family practice physician and a lead physician with Washington Township Medical Group Inc. (WTMG) at Warm Springs and Newark.
Vaccinations, which stimulate the immune system to protect the body from various diseases, have been so effective over the past several decades in reducing or eliminating dangerous and even fatal diseases that some people incorrectly assume that vaccinations are no longer a necessity, Dr. Curran points out.
This couldn't be further from the truth. In fact, vaccines continue to act as a frontline of defense against a number of diseases, which is part of the reason August is recognized each year as National Immunization Awareness Month.
When a vaccine is introduced into the body, typically by injection, it presents the immune system with a weakened form of a specific virus or a piece of that virus. This in turn causes the body to produce antibodies, which work to fend off the actual virus in case of exposure.
Dr. Curran explains that vaccinations are much different than antibiotics in that they are meant to stimulate protection, not treat a disease. Typically antibiotics are used to kill off or prevent bacteria from forming, whereas vaccinations are meant to trigger an immune system response that prevents a person from becoming ill due to a viral infection, which cannot be treated with antibiotics.
A healthy childhood begins with prevention
While many different age groups need vaccinations or "boosters" to spur immunity, it is particularly important for infants and children to receive the proper vaccinations at the appropriate stages.
"At the clinics, we do see an influx of parents bringing their kids in to get ready for school registration and make sure they're immunized against many diseases," Dr. Curran notes. "It's definitely a good thing to take care of before school time, especially given that vaccination recommendations change over time."
It's important for parents, Dr. Curran says, to talk to their family physician about immunization schedules for their children, as guidelines change often and new vaccinations are becoming available. For instance, the meningitis vaccination, which was previously recommended for young people going away to college and those entering military boot camp, is now recommended for children ages 11 to 12.
"I think there's a misconception that most of these childhood diseases have been wiped out, but we still have outbreaks of things like pertussis (whooping cough), for instance," Dr. Curran says.
Vaccinations have changed the face of medicine
A generation ago, according to Dr. Curran, the stigma attached to polio was significant. Today the health care community is close to eliminating polio worldwide. But Dr. Curran warns that as a society, we cannot let our guard down.
"Vaccinations almost suffer from their own success - they tend to become so effective that people forget about the risk," he says. "To a certain extent it's true that we've gained 'herd' immunity for many diseases. But if a disease does get introduced, it could cause tremendous consequences."
Certain populations are at higher risk for serious complications due to particular viruses, such as the influenza virus. The CDC and other organizations publish recommendations for which populations - such as the elderly, young children and those with chronic diseases or compromised immune systems - should receive the flu vaccination every year to be protected.
"I encourage all eligible people to get a flu vaccine," Dr. Curran says. "In addition to protecting yourself, you're helping to protect high risk populations as well when you get an annual flu vaccination. Most people who get the flu recover from it completely, but more fragile populations still run the risk of serious complications or death that could have been easily prevented through vaccinations."
Particular age groups may benefit from different vaccinations, some of which have only been developed in recent years. This is why it's important to talk to your doctor about what is available, he says.
Traveling? Get protection
For those who will be traveling abroad, it's particularly important for them to visit a physician in advance of their trip to discuss immunization against diseases that may be prevalent in the regions to which they will be traveling. A physician can help identify necessary vaccinations and medications for diseases such as hepatitis A, typhoid, yellow fever and malaria.
Dr. Curran says it's ideal to consult with a physician at least two weeks before traveling, but it's always a good idea to review current CDC guidelines at www.cdc.gov.
Washington Township Medical Group offers vaccinations for a wide range of diseases, including childhood vaccinations and ones for travelers. Remember, it is always best to double check with the clinic in advance to make sure it has the vaccination in stock.
For questions or to make an appointment at Washington Township Medical Group locations, call:
WTMG @ Warm Springs...........(510) 651-2371
WTMG @ Newark...................(510) 797-7535
WTMG @ 1860 Mowry.............(510) 713-8426