At River Bend Medical Associates, we believe in preventative medicine. Preventative medicine is the understanding that many serious diseases can be avoided entirely if their causes are addressed long in advance.
Preventative medicine typically includes tools in order to attack problems from multiple angles: recommending lifestyle choices, encouraging annual physicals, scheduling screenings for certain diseases that tend to arise at certain times (e.g. breast cancer, colon cancer), and so on.
This leads us to one of the most powerful tools that preventative medicine has: vaccines.
For centuries, societies in Europe and Asia were repeatedly devastated by a disease called “smallpox.” Smallpox was a common and extremely serious disease that caused a severe skin rash and pustules (“pox”). While many people survived it, bearing the scars left by the pox, smallpox killed many of the people who contracted it.
At the time, the best tool they had for preventing smallpox was “variolation,” in which people were intentionally exposed to the scabs of smallpox sufferers.
In the 1760s, an English doctor named Edward Jenner noticed that English dairy workers, who were commonly exposed to a mild bovine illness known as cowpox (which would cause a minor outbreak on the skin, and then clear up) never seemed to develop smallpox. This led Jenner to wonder, what if cowpox was similar enough to smallpox that it made the immune system resistant to both diseases?
In 1796, he gathered pus from a dairy worker infected with smallpox, and used it to variolate an 8 year old boy against cowpox. Six weeks later he exposed the boy to smallpox. The boy didn’t catch smallpox. Further experiments led Jenner to conclude that cowpox exposure could inoculate people against smallpox, without the risk of death associated with traditional smallpox variation.
Jenner’s experiment created the very first vaccine.
Today’s vaccines are incredibly safe.
Thanks to vaccines, hundreds of millions of lives have been saved since that day in 1796 when Jenner started his experiment.
However, many early vaccines would be considered incredibly unsafe by today’s standards. Early vaccines had a high rate of infection, in which those being treated would develop the diseases they were being inoculated against. Sometimes, these people died.
This has pushed researchers to develop and refine ever safer vaccines. The vaccines commonly given today have very low rates of serious complications.
Vaccines do NOT cause autism.
We know that vaccines are controversial for many people, due to fears of autism.
This is due to a study published in 1998 in The Lancet by the researcher Dr. Andrew Wakefield. The study claimed that 8 children he studied had developed autism due to being treated with the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine.
Wakefield’s study created a firestorm of controversy. But as researchers looked into Wakefield’s work, it became clear that his research didn’t add up. Countless large studies in the years that followed demonstrated conclusively that Wakefield’s allegation about a link between vaccines and autism was false. In 2004, the editor of The Lancet stated that Wakefield’s paper was “fatally flawed,” and should not have been published. Shortly after, 10 of the Wakefield’s 12 coauthors published a retraction.
Wakefield’s wrongdoing was extremely serious. Eventually, the United Kingdom revoked his license to practice medicine in 2010.
The last 20 years of research data is extremely clear: vaccines do not cause autism.
Influenza, better known as ‘the flu’
Influenza is a highly contagious respiratory illness. The disease is caused by influenza virus.
Influenza causes fever, body aches, sneezing, and coughing. It can be extremely serious for the very young and the very old, sometimes resulting in hospitalization or even death.
Doctors encourage use of the flu vaccine to provide herd immunity for more vulnerable populations—the young and the old—who cannot safely take the vaccine. (The only people who cannot take flu vaccine are those under 6 months – there is no reason elderly patients cannot take flu vaccine in general – I know what you are trying to say in terms of providing her immunity, but it makes it sound like elderly cannot take the vaccine? Maybe move this last sentence to the top of the paragraph?)Those who take the vaccine benefit by likely avoiding an unpleasant bout of the flu, while saving others from severe infection or death.
You may still get the flu despite getting the vaccine. Flu viruses mutate extremely rapidly, which is why the vaccine is given yearly. However, sometimes a new strain of the flu emerges shortly after the vaccine is developed and distributed, and is able to sidestep the protection afforded by the vaccine.
Meningitis is an extremely dangerous disease in which the membranes covering the spinal cord and brain become inflamed due to bacterial or viral infection. Meningitis can become very serious, and even cause death.
Meningitis can be caused by a variety of viruses, such as the type 1 and type 2 herpes viruses (which cause oral and genital herpes), chickenpox, mumps, and others. We can vaccinate against meningococcal meningitis. Currently, there are two types of vaccines available. The newest vaccine is the Serogroup B meningococcal vaccine (sometimes known as MenB), which is sold under the brand names Bexsero and Trumenba.
In the last few years, five colleges—including two California universities—have experienced serogroup B meningitis outbreaks. Thankfully, the universities responded quickly, and only 2 students died. However, meningitis can have serious long term consequences, such as difficulty retaining and forming memories, headaches, learning impairment, seizures, weakness, difficulty producing speech, and even blindness and deafness.
Thanks to the development of more effective vaccines, we can prevent bacterial meningitis infections. We prefer to vaccinate children against meningitis when they enter their early teens, as this age group is particularly susceptible to meningitis. In fact, most states require students entering college to receive the vaccine.
Meningitis spreads easily—even sharing food or drink scan spread it. Researchers often struggle to identify exactly how the disease is spread during outbreaks.
HPV, or Human Papillomavirus
HPV, or human papillomavirus, is the most commonly transmitted sexual disease in the United States. It is estimated that between 42% and 80% of adults contract at least one of the 40 types of sexually transmitted HPV viruses.
HPV is not transmitted through bodily fluids, but rather through skin to skin contact. Symptoms of HPV infection may be mild. Some people develop genital warts that may or may not go away over time. While most people don’t develop any symptoms, they still have the virus, and remain infected for the rest of their lives.
The problem is that about a dozen types of HPV cause cancer. A study in 2002 found that HPV accounted for slightly more than 5% of all the world’s new cancer cases, making it the single greatest infectious cause of cancer. The CDC believes that about 31,000 Americans develop cancer due to HPV exposure every year. Cancer can develop many years or even decades after contracting the HPV virus.
HPV can cause cancer in a wide variety of body parts, including the vulva, cervix, penis, mouth, throat, and anus. The evidence suggests that women are roughly twice as likely as men to develop HPV. Nearly every instance of cervical cancer has been found to be caused by HPV. But roughly 10,000 men every year develop HPV-related cancer as well.
This is why we, and the CDC, strongly recommend that all children receive the HPV vaccine at 11 or 12 years old, although the vaccine can be given as early as 9. The vaccine works best when it’s given before there is any exposure to HPV. CDC HPV Vaccine Guidlines
Numerous studies have shown that the HPV vaccine is nearly 100% effective in protecting against the most common form of HPV-related cancer, cervical cancer.
But for the vaccine to have the best chance to work, it has to be given early.
If you have questions about the vaccines discussed above, or any vaccination, please talk to your doctor. We want you to be fully informed about the benefits and risks of vaccination, and to understand why we make certain recommendations. Don’t be afraid to ask.