Childhood Vaccinations


Learn about the different childhood vaccines that protect from disease.
Learn about the different childhood vaccines that protect from disease.
Publications International, Ltd.

Children are born with temporary protection from many diseases, thanks to antibodies from the mother passed through the placenta. Within a year, however, this defense is lost and a number of illnesses come knocking at the door.

Childhood vaccinations protect us from these diseases, but when they aren't complete, the bugs come crawling back. In this article you'll find helpful information on the following vaccines:

  • Chickenpox Vaccine. Anyone born before the 1990s probably remembers the agony associated with those small red bumps fondly known as chickenpox. Thankfully, a vaccination was developed in 1995, and now almost all children receive a vaccine between the ages and 12 and 18 months. What's more, even if a vaccinated child comes down with the chickenpox, the severity of the disease will be significantly decreased. Find out even more about the chickenpox vaccine on this page.
  • Diphtheria Vaccine. Children usually receive the diphtheria vaccine as part of an immunization for diphtheria/tetanus/pertussis -- DTP or DTaP. Without this vaccination, a child who develops diphtheria may exhibit symptoms such as breathing problems, double vision, heart rhythm problems, and more. Learn as much as you can about diphtheria in this section.
  • Rubella Vaccine. Rubella, or the German measles, is also known as the "three-day measles" because the duration of this illness is usually quite short. Don't let this fool you, though. Getting your child immunized for rubella is important. This vaccine is typically given in the form of a measles/mumps/rubella (MMR) immunization. Learn more on this page.
  • Flu Vaccine. It's just the flu...how bad can it be, right? Wrong! There is a strain of the flu, called invasive H. flu, that is particularly dangerous for young children. Thankfully, there is a vaccine available today to protect them against this infection. Learn about it and about the symptoms of invasive H. flu here.
  • Measles Vaccine. Measles is a viral infection that affects the respiratory system. It starts out with symptoms similar to the common cold, but this disease can actually be fatal. Find out how to protect yourself and your family against the measles on this page.
  • Mumps Vaccine. While the mumps is not as potentially harmful as other infections like measles, it can be dangerous, especially if the swelling caused by the virus reaches the brain or other organs. Learn more about the mumps vaccine as well as other preventative measures you can take to avoid it.
  • Polio Vaccine. Before the polio vaccine was introduced in 1955, polio was a frightening disease that left some young children paralyzed. Thanks to the vaccine, there are few, if any cases reported in the United States today, but it is still important to know the signs of this disease and why it's so important to get immunized. Find out more here.
  • Shingles Vaccine. Shingles is an often painful infection that is caused by the varicella-zoster virus -- the same one that contributes to chickenpox. This disease is more prevalent among people age 50 and older who have weakened immune systems. Learn about the shingles vaccine as well as the symptoms to watch out for.
  • Tetanus Vaccine. Many people think you can only get tetanus, or lockjaw, from stepping on a rusty nail, but there are other ways to contract this disease. Because of this, it's so important to stay on top of you tetanus vaccine and know what signs to look out for. See this section for details.
  • Whooping Cough Vaccine. Whooping cough causes a child to suffer from coughing spells that have a distinctive cough that ends with a "whooping" sound. It typically affects children under one, but others are susceptible if their immunizations are not up to date. Find out more about whooping cough on this page.

Chickenpox Vaccine

Today, most children between the age of 12 and 18 months receive the chickenpox vaccine.
Today, most children between the age of 12 and 18 months receive the chickenpox vaccine.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

The chickenpox vaccine is relatively new, but it sure comes as a relief for any parent who has had to try to keep an itchy youngster from scratching those small red bumps. Read on for more information about the varicella vaccine.

Chickenpox Basics

The varicella-zoster virus, a member of the herpesvirus family, causes chickenpox. The virus is spread through the air when someone who has it coughs or sneezes, spreading viral particles that are then inhaled by a nonimmune person. Contact with the fluid of chickenpox blisters can also spread the virus, but it does not live long on inanimate objects, such as doorknobs.

Chickenpox causes a remarkably itchy skin rash that is easy to identify because of its small red bumps that look like insect bites or pimples. The bumps first appear on the back, face, scalp, and abdomen, and then can spread nearly everywhere else, including the mouth, nose, ears, and genitals, but they are concentrated on the face and body.

The bumps develop into blisters that are filled with clear fluid that later turns cloudy. These blisters break and develop into open sores and then dry brown scabs. All stages of the lesions can be present at the same time. Chickenpox usually lasts about seven days in children but several days longer in adults.

Who's at Risk for Chickenpox

Before the chickenpox vaccine was available, children younger than 15 were the particular risk group, but anyone could be infected. Chickenpox is usually a mild illness, but complications, such as viral pneumonia, inflammation of the brain (encephalitis), and, more commonly, bacterial infection of the skin can occur. Anyone who experiences chickenpox as a child is at risk for shingles later in life (see Shingles Vaccine for more information).

Defensive Measures Against Chickenpox

Chickenpox is very contagious, but immunization with the varicella vaccine is an effective weapon against it. Beyond that, avoid contact with anyone who has chickenpox. If contact is unavoidable, wash hands and disinfect surfaces, particularly when dealing with the fluid-filled blisters.

The varicella vaccine has been administered since 1995 and is one of the routine immunizations given to children between 12 months and 18 months of age. The vaccine is more than 95 percent effective in preventing the severest form of the virus and is 80 to 90 percent effective at preventing milder forms of the infection. Children who develop chickenpox after being vaccinated will experience a weaker form of the disease.

Older children and adolescents who haven't received the vaccine, and who have not had chickenpox, should be immunized. However, instead of a single vaccine dose, adolescents 12 and older require two doses given a minimum of four weeks apart.

It's also important to watch the calendar. Chickenpox occurs most often in late winter and early spring. An infected person is contagious two days before the rash appears and until all the blisters have formed scabs. A child with chickenpox should be kept out of school or day care until all the blisters have dried, which is usually about one week.

Susceptible pregnant women should steer clear of a person with chickenpox. If a pregnant woman who isn't immune gets the disease, her baby has a small risk of birth defects, and the mother has a higher risk of developing serious complications, such as varicella pneumonia.

Newborns born to women who develop chickenpox right before or right after delivery can develop life-threatening varicella. These infants can get some protection from varicella-zoster immune globulin (VZIG). VZIG also can be given to high-risk children, such as those with leukemia or those taking immune-suppressing drugs.

Never give aspirin to a child who gets chickenpox because of the risk of Reye's syndrome, a rare, but potentially deadly, disease.

Healthy children who have had chickenpox don't need to be vaccinated; they are usually immune to the disease for life.

Diphtheria is a bacterial infection that affects the nose and throat. Learn more about the diphtheria vaccine on the next page.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Diphtheria Vaccine

Diphtheria affects the nose and throat and at first can feel like a severe sore throat.
Diphtheria affects the nose and throat and at first can feel like a severe sore throat.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

The early signs of diphtheria are so similar to a sore throat that it can go undetected. Read on to learn about the warning signs of this infection and why you should have your child vaccinated.

Diphtheria Basics

Diphtheria is caused by infection with the bacterium Corynebacterium diphtheriae, which spreads easily and quickly. It mainly affects the nose and throat. In its early stages, people may mistake diphtheria for a severe sore throat accompanied by a low-grade fever and swollen neck glands.

The C. diphtheriae bacterium creates a toxin that can lead to a thick coating in the nose, throat, or airway. This coating is easy to spot because of its unusual gray or black color. The toxin affects the throat and neck, as well as the heart and nervous system, and can cause:

  • A swollen neck (the "bull neck")
  • Breathing problems and swallowing difficulties
  • Slurred speech
  • Double vision
  • Disorders of the heart rhythm
  • Shock (rapid heartbeat and clammy, cold, and pale skin)

Even with proper treatment, diphtheria kills about 10 percent of those who contract it. Treatment with antibiotics and antitoxins often takes place in a hospital, and a ventilator may be needed to facilitate breathing.

Who's at Risk for Diphtheria

Children age 5 and younger are especially at risk for getting diphtheria with severe complications. Children who are malnourished, who live in crowded or unsanitary conditions, or who have not been immunized have an even greater risk.

Defensive Measures Against Diphtheria

Preventing diphtheria means immunizing your child with the diphtheria/tetanus/pertussis (DTP or DTaP) vaccine. Most cases of diphtheria occur in people who haven't received the vaccine or who haven't received the entire course of it. The disease is rarely diagnosed in the United States, but it occurs more frequently in developing countries.

The DTP or DTaP vaccine is given at 2, 4, and 6 months of age, with a booster given at 12 to 18 months of age and another when the child is between 4 and 6 years old. Booster shots should be given every ten years after age 6 to maintain protection. The amount of diphtheria toxoid (inactivated toxin) in the adult vaccine (Td vaccine) is lower.

Those infected by C. diphtheriae can transmit it to others for up to four weeks, even if they don't have any symptoms. Diphtheria is a highly contagious disease, so anyone who has it must be isolated to prevent its spread.

Because diphtheria is easily contracted through sneezing, coughing, laughing, or even sharing a drinking glass or toy, it's important to remain vigilant about hand washing, especially when children are sharing things. Sanitizing surfaces, utensils, and other items with hot water and soap or a bleach-based cleaner is essential.

If you're not sure if your child has been vaccinated against diphtheria, speak with your physician. You should also be sure your own booster immunizations are current. International studies have shown that a significant percentage of adults older than 40 aren't adequately protected against diphtheria.

German measles, or the rubella virus, spread very easily, so it's important to get your child vaccinated. Learn more about the rubella vaccination in the next section.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Rubella Vaccine

Children age 12 to 15 months usually receive the rubella vaccine as part of the MMR shot. They then receive a second dose between 4 and 6 years old.
Children age 12 to 15 months usually receive the rubella vaccine as part of the MMR shot. They then receive a second dose between 4 and 6 years old.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

Rubella, or German measles, is particularly risky for children between the ages of 5 and 9 and for pregnant women and their unborn children. Find out why the vaccination is important.

Rubella Basics

German measles is caused by the rubella virus, which spreads easily through coughing and sneezing, but the disease is generally mild. In fact, it is sometimes called the "three-day measles."

Symptoms include a red rash, headache, loss of appetite, mild conjunctivitis (inflammation of the lining of the eyelids), swollen lymph nodes (especially in front of the ear), joint pain and swelling, and a stuffy or runny nose, but many people who are infected experience no symptoms.

The rubella virus can pass through the bloodstream of a pregnant woman to her developing child. When this happens, particularly in early stages of pregnancy, the rubella virus can cause mental retardation, deafness, cataracts, and other congenital defects that are collectively known as congenital rubella syndrome (CRS).

An infant who has CRS can shed the virus in body fluids for a year or more and can pass the virus to people who have not been immunized. Thanks to immunization, German measles and CRS cases in the United States are rare.

Who's at Risk for Rubella

Children ages 5 to 9 who have not been immunized are at risk, as are developing babies of infected pregnant women. Nonimmunized young adults are also in danger of contracting German measles.

Defensive Measures Against Rubella

Rubella is preventable with vaccination. If you're planning a pregnancy, be sure your immunizations are current. If you already are or may be pregnant, you'll have to wait until after your child is delivered before receiving the vaccination. (You must protect yourself from pregnancy for at least four weeks after being immunized.) You also should avoid contact with anyone infected by the rubella virus, but because infected people don't always have symptoms, this can be difficult.

The rubella vaccine is usually given to babies at 12 to 15 months of age as part of the measles/mumps/rubella (MMR) immunization. A second dose is given at 4 to 6 years of age.

The flu vaccine is recommended for children under the age of 5, and especially for those age 3 months to 2 years. Learn more about the flu vaccine on the next page.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Flu Vaccine

The invasive H. flu can cause a sinus infection and other problems.
The invasive H. flu can cause a sinus infection and other problems.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

Thanks to a vaccination, there are few reported cases of invasive H. flu today. Learn more about this infection, including who is most at risk.

Flu Basics

The invasive H. flu infection is caused by the Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) bacterium, which is spread through discharge from the throat or nose of an infected person, either by coughing, sneezing, or speaking at close range. Although initially thought to be the cause of influenza, Hib disease is not related to any form of influenza virus.

Invasive H. flu can cause bacterial meningitis, a potentially fatal brain infection, or other serious, often deadly, infections in children. However, with the development and widespread use of effective Hib vaccines, few cases are now diagnosed in the developed world. A person does not have to have symptoms to spread the infection.

Besides meningitis, invasive H. flu infection can cause pneumonia; epiglottitis (severe swelling above the voice box that makes breathing difficult); and infections of the blood, joints, bones, and pericardium (the covering of the heart). In kids, less severe infections can include, but are not limited to, middle ear infection, conjunctivitis, and sinus infection.

Who's at Risk for the Flu

Without immunization, children 5 years of age and younger are at risk, and invasive H. flu occurs most often in children ages 3 months to 2 years. As children grow older, they are less likely to develop the disease -- few cases occur after age 5.

Defensive Measures Against the Flu

The most effective prevention is the invasive H. flu (Hib) vaccine, which should be given to your child at 2 months of age, 4 months of age, 6 months of age (depending on the type of vaccine), and 12 to 15 months of age (be sure to ask which vaccine schedule your child's shots should follow). You also should prevent contact with children known to be infected with invasive H. flu.

If your child is exposed to the infection, he or she can be given rifampin (Rifadin, Rimactane), an antibiotic that is active against the invasive H. flu bacterium.

Measles is both highly contagious and can be deadly. Learn about defensive measures to take against this infection on the next page.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Measles Vaccine

Measles is caused by a virus, so antibiotics are not effective against it. To be sure to protect your child against measles, it's important to get him or her vaccinated. Read on for more information about the measles vaccine.

Measles Basics

A highly contagious virus is to blame for measles, or Rubeola. The infection spreads through airborne droplets when someone who is infected with the virus sneezes or coughs.

Measles is a respiratory infection that can have deadly consequences. The first symptoms of the disease mimic the common cold: runny nose, hacking cough, and red watery eyes. However, measles also causes a fever and a skin rash of red or brownish-red blotches that start at the forehead and spread downward to cover the body. Koplik's spots, which are tiny red spots with white centers that appear inside the mouth, also indicate the presence of measles.

Because a virus causes measles, antibiotics are not effective. The virus must run its course, which takes about two weeks.

Complications of measles can include brain infection and pneumonia. However, these occur more commonly in malnourished or immune-deficient people.

Who's at Risk for Measles

Children who have not been immunized against measles are at greatest risk. Your child's chance of contracting measles is very slight if he or she has been properly vaccinated.

Defensive Measures Against Measles

Stick to your physician -- or state -- recommended vaccination schedule for the best protection against measles. The live weakened measles virus vaccine (the only type currently available) is part of routine MMR immunizations that are given at 12 to 15 months of age and 4 to 6 years of age.

Infants are typically protected from measles for six to eight months after birth, thanks to immunity passed on from the mother. However, if there is a measles outbreak or if you will be taking your infant to an area of the world where measles is still prevalent, the vaccine can be given at 9 months of age, but this shot should still be followed by the regularly scheduled MMR vaccinations when the child is 12 to 15 months old and 4 to 6 years old.

If someone in your immediate family has measles, chances are good that your unvaccinated child will get it, too. Isolation is the key to prevention in such cases, as is following your physician's recommendations. In most cases, you or your child can take acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to treat the fever that accompanies measles, but children shouldn't take aspirin because of the risk of Reye's syndrome.

Children can easily spread mumps to other children through everyday play. That's why it's so important to get vaccinated. See the next page for more information.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Mumps Vaccine

The mumps virus can even be spread through laughing.
The mumps virus can even be spread through laughing.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

Mumps starts with flulike symptoms, including a high fever and headache, but progresses by causing swelling in the parotid glands, which are located at the back of each cheek. Read on to learn more about mumps and its vaccine.

Mumps Basics

Mumps is caused by a virus that is spread through nose and mouth fluids, particularly via sneezing, coughing, or laughing. Children can easily transmit mumps when sharing items such as toys, cups, and crayons.

Mumps primarily affects the saliva-producing parotid glands. These are found at the back of each cheek between the ear and jaw, and at least one side will swell remarkably due to mumps. Swallowing, talking, chewing, or drinking acidic beverages (such as orange juice) can be excruciating.

Mumps begins with a high fever, a headache, and a loss of appetite. It takes one week for the cheek swelling to go down and a total of ten to 12 days to fully recover. In rare cases, mumps can lead to swelling of the brain or other organs. Adolescent boys and adult men can also develop an inflammation of the testicles known as orchitis (however, sterility is rare because only one testicle is usually involved).

Because mumps is a viral infection, antibiotics have no effect, so you just have to manage the pain and let the virus work itself out.

Who's at Risk for Mumps

Most cases of mumps are in children ages 5 to 14, but the number of young adults infected has been slowly rising during the past 20 years. Children 12 months and younger are usually not infected.

Defensive Measures Against Mumps

The best way to prevent mumps is to be immunized. You can receive the mumps vaccine alone or, as is more common, as part of the MMR immunization.

Like many viral infections, mumps spreads easily from person to person, especially among children. Keep your kid healthy by:

  • Teaching your child good hand-washing habits.
  • Choosing a childcare provider with exemplary sanitation practices. Questions to ask include: Are children allowed to share toys without a disinfection process? Is play equipment wiped down with antimicrobial cleansers?
  • Understanding the "sick child" policies at your child's day care or school. Does having a high fever mean a child can't attend? If not, maybe it should.

Nevertheless, because mumps is contagious two days before symptoms begin, and because mumps can be spread from people who are infected but show no symptoms, immunization is still the best defense.

Most cases of polio show no signs. That's why it's so important to get your child immunized for the disease. Learn about the polio vaccine on the next page.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Polio Vaccine

Dr. Jonas Salk developed the first inactivated polio vaccine in 1955.
Dr. Jonas Salk developed the first inactivated polio vaccine in 1955.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

While there has not been a polio epidemic since the 1950s, it's important to have all the facts about polio and be sure to get your children immunized.

Polio Basics

Polio is caused by a virus that enters the body through the mouth, usually from hands contaminated with the stool of an infected person. Objects touched by contaminated hands, such as eating utensils, can also spread the virus. There are three types of poliovirus, so a person could possibly be infected three times.

In about 95 percent of cases, polio produces no symptoms at all (known as asymptomatic polio). In the 4 percent to 8 percent of cases in which there are symptoms (symptomatic polio), the illness appears in three forms:

  • Abortive polio is limited to flulike symptoms, such as upper respiratory infection, fever, sore throat, and a general feeling of illness.
  • Nonparalytic polio is a more serious form and produces symptoms of mild meningitis, such as sensitivity to light and neck stiffness.
  • Paralytic polio is a severe, debilitating form of the disease that occurs in about 1 to 2 percent of cases. It can result in partial or full paralysis of the breathing muscles and extremities, necessitating breathing support. In fact, the "iron lung" was developed for people with paralytic polio.

Who's at Risk for Polio

Polio is most common in infants and young children, but severe complications have occurred most often in adults. Although cases of polio are basically nonexistent in the United States today, the disease is still a big problem in some developing countries.

Defensive Measures Against Polio

There hasn't been a polio epidemic in the United States since the 1950s, but the need for protection from the virus remains. The two most effective ways to prevent polio are:

  • Cleanliness. Polio is transmitted primarily through ingesting items, directly or indirectly, that are contaminated with feces. Not all stools carry the virus, but it's a good idea to wash hands after using the bathroom, changing a diaper, or coming into contact with questionable materials.
  • Immunization. The inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) used today in the United States stimulates the immune system to produce antibodies that fight the polio virus if a person comes in contact with it. Dr. Jonas Salk developed the first IPV in 1955, and an enhanced-potency version came about in 1988. Other parts of the world use an oral polio vaccine (OPV) that was first developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in 1961. OPV is based on a live, but weakened, form of the virus. OPV is cheaper, doesn't have to be administered by healthcare professionals, and unlike IPV is effective in stopping outbreaks of the "wild" poliovirus (those outbreaks not related to the vaccine). However, it can, on rare occasions, cause paralysis.

In the United States, it's currently recommended that children have four doses of IPV between the ages of 2 months and 6 years. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend three equally spaced doses of IPV be given before the age of 18 months, plus an IPV booster given between the ages of 4 and 6, when children are entering school.

If you're planning to travel outside the United States, particularly to countries where polio still exists, be sure that you and your family are up to date on complete polio vaccinations. Afghanistan, India, Nigeria, and Pakistan still have endemic polio circulating, and the virus could be introduced to other countries. If the polio virus were to occur in a country where not enough people have been immunized, it would spread like wildfire.

Shingles and chickenpox are caused by the same virus, and in fact, a dormant varicella-zoster virus can later become shingles. Read the next section for information about the shingles vaccine.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Shingles Vaccine

Though chicken pox primarily affects children, shingles is more a risk for adults.
Though chicken pox primarily affects children, shingles is more a risk for adults.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

Shingles usually occurs in people 50 and older with weakened immune systems. The symptoms of shingles can be quite painful, so read on to find out how you can avoid this infection.

Shingles Basics

Shingles is caused by the varicella-zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. After a chickenpox infection, the virus can lie dormant in nerve cells and may later reactivate, affect nerves just under the skin, and produce a tingling, itching, painful, and often bandlike rash known as shingles. As many as 10 percent to 20 percent of adults who had chickenpox as children will develop shingles.

Shingles is characterized by clustered red bumps that appear on one side of the body or face. It takes seven to ten days for the virus to run its course, during which time the itchy, painful bumps turn into blisters and crust over. You may see changes in the color of the skin when the scabs fall off.

In bad cases of shingles, these color changes last a lifetime. The pain of shingles can linger for one to three months or longer, a condition called postherpetic neuralgia. If shingles occurs in the eye area, it can cause swollen eyelids, redness, pain, and can affect vision -- in rare cases, it can cause serious vision problems.

Shingles isn't contagious, but the varicella-zoster virus is, so someone infected with shingles can transmit chickenpox, not shingles, to others who aren't immune to the virus.

Who's at Risk for Shingles

Adults 50 and older and people with weakened immune systems are primarily at risk. Shingles is rare in children and usually takes a milder form. Only people who have had chickenpox can develop shingles.

Defensive Measures Against Shingles

In children who have received the chickenpox vaccination, breakthrough chickenpox infections -- usually quite mild -- might occur. Scientific observations of vaccinated children have found that some will develop shingles at a later point in life. This is usually due to silent infection with the natural virus and not the weakened vaccine strain.

In May 2006, the Food and Drug Administration approved a new variant of the chickenpox vaccine that was designed to prevent shingles or make any subsequent shingles episodes milder. This new and more potent version of the chickenpox vaccine boosts immunity but is only for adults 60 and older.

It's important to stay up to date on tetanus vaccinations. Find out why in the next section.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Tetanus Vaccine

Be sure to get a booster shot every ten years to protect yourself against tetanus.
Be sure to get a booster shot every ten years to protect yourself against tetanus.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

Tetanus can be a serious condition if you do not stay up on your immunizations. Find out more about tetanus, including who is most at risk and how to defend yourself against it.

Tetanus Basics

Tetanus is caused by a toxin produced by a bacterium called Clostridium tetani. Spores (reproductive cells) of C. tetani are found in soil and enter the body through a skin wound. Once the germinating spores develop into mature bacteria, the bacteria produce a tetanospasmin, a neurotoxin (a protein that acts as a poison to the body's nervous system) that causes muscle spasms.

In the developed world, tetanus is a rare but serious illness. It often begins with muscle spasms in the jaw, called trismus, or "lockjaw." These spasms are accompanied by difficulty swallowing and painful stiffness in the muscles of the neck, shoulders, or back. These spasms can spread to the muscles of the abdomen, upper arms, and thighs. If diagnosed and treated early, recovery is possible but takes several weeks.

Keep in mind that stepping on a rusty nail is not the only way to contract tetanus. Skin punctures from nonsterile needles, such as those used for tattooing or piercing, can cause tetanus. Remember, too, that even if the instrument or wound site looks clean, it can still be contaminated.

Another form of tetanus, neonatal tetanus, occurs in newborns who are delivered in unsanitary conditions, especially if the umbilical cord stump becomes contaminated. This is very rare in the United States.

Who's at Risk for Tetanus

Tetanus cannot be spread from person to person -- it occurs after the tetanus-causing bacterial spores enter the body. Children who have not received the full schedule of DTP or DTaP vaccines and adults who have not had a booster in ten years are at risk. Newborns who are born to unimmunized mothers in unsanitary conditions are also at risk of getting tetanus.

Defensive Measures Against Tetanus

The prevention of tetanus is a relatively simple task. First, clean all wounds and remove any foreign material or dead tissue. Tetanus bacteria are strict anaerobes -- that is, they only grow in the absence of oxygen -- so good wound care is very important.

However, because it can be difficult even for medical professionals to completely clean out a puncture wound, you must also be sure your child receives routine tetanus vaccinations. The DTP or DTaP vaccine is given at 2, 4, and 6 months of age, with a booster given at 12 to 18 months and another when the child is between 4 and 6 years old. After that, a tetanus and diphtheria booster (Td) is recommended at 11 to 12 years of age, and then every ten years through adulthood.

If you or your child have been previously immunized but are injured in a way that increases tetanus risk (such as stepping on a rusty nail or cutting your hand with a knife), a booster shot may be necessary if it's been several years since the last one. This shot is known as postexposure tetanus prophylaxis.

Neonatal tetanus can be prevented when a pregnant woman receives tetanus immunizations and delivers her baby in sanitary conditions. If you are pregnant, you should discuss your immunization record with your obstetrician well before your due date.

Another highly contagious bacterial infection is whooping cough. Find out how to get your child vaccinated for whooping cough on the next page.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Whooping Cough Vaccine

Children before the first birthday are most at risk for contracting whooping cough.
Children before the first birthday are most at risk for contracting whooping cough.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

Children under one year old are the most at risk for whooping cough. Find out what you can do to protect your family against this infection.

Whooping Cough Basics

The bacterium Bordetella pertussis causes whooping cough. This bacterial infection of the respiratory system is marked by severe coughing spells that end in a "whooping" sound when a child takes a breath. These coughing spells can last more than a minute and cause a child to turn purple or red and sometimes vomit. In severe episodes, the child may suffer from lack of oxygen to the brain.

Who's at Risk for Whooping Cough

Whooping cough is highly contagious. It can occur at any age but is most severe before children reach their first birthday, because they are not yet adequately protected by immunizations. The immunity provided by the early childhood vaccines and the booster often wanes, leaving adolescents and adults susceptible. When these older people get whooping cough, they usually have a hacking cough, not whoops.

Defensive Measures Against Whooping Cough

Whooping cough can be prevented with the pertussis vaccine, which is part of the DTP or DTaP shot. To give additional protection in case immunity fades, the American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends a booster shot of the newer combination vaccine (called Tdap) for those between the ages of 11 and 18 instead of the Td booster routinely given in this age range.

The older DTP vaccine contained killed, whole bacteria and commonly caused fever, pain, and redness at the vaccination site. Now, a cell-free vaccine that uses inactivated toxins (toxoids) is used. It is better tolerated, although it does not produce immunity that lasts longer than the older product.

If someone in your family has whooping cough, every member of your household might receive antibiotics. Young children who have not received all five doses of the vaccine may require an immediate booster dose if exposed to an infected family member.

Thanks to medical breakthroughs throughout the years, many potentially serious diseases are no longer a concern for parents. By working with your child's pediatrician, you can ensure your child receives all the proper vaccinations and remains as healthy as possible throughout childhood and into adulthood.

©Publications International, Ltd.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Laurie L. Dove is an award winning Kansas-based journalist and author whose work has been published internationally. A dedicated consumer advocate, Dove specializes in writing about health, parenting, fitness and travel. An active member of the National Federation of Press Women, Dove also is the former owner of a parenting magazine and a weekly newspaper.

ABOUT THE CONSULTANTS:

Dr. Larry Lutwick: is a Professor of Medicine at the State University of New York Downstate Medical School in Brooklyn, New York and Director of Infectious Diseases, Veterans Affairs New York Harbor Health Care System, Brooklyn Campus. He is also Bacterial Diseases Moderator for the real time online infectious diseases surveillance system, Program for Monitoring Emerging Diseases (ProMED-mail) and has authored more than 100 medical articles and 15 book chapters. He has edited two books on infectious diseases.