Last Updated : 1/9/2014
There is a popular saying "Prevention is better than Cure" and this relates best to vaccines. Vaccines are usually very safe and are mainly given to children so that they are protected from common childhood diseases without much suffering.
If a child catches a bug (bacteria), doctor can treat him with antibiotics. But still the child has to suffer for a few days, miss work/school or suffer from complications, which could mean hospitalization and higher medical bills. Viral diseases are even more difficult as there are no effective anti-viral medicines to treat them. So many people suffer from the full course of such viral diseases and suffer its complications. Hence protecting oneself with a vaccine is the best option against infections especially viral diseases. In fact with the help of vaccines, some viral diseases have been eradicated (e.g. small pox) or are on the verge of eradication) e.g. poliomyelitis.
Amongst many vaccines available in India against common childhood diseases, one such important vaccine is MMR vaccine which protects the child against Measles, Mumps and Rubella. These three viral diseases are highly infectious diseases and are important causes of childhood sufferings and even deaths. None of the three diseases can be "cured" with medications.
Measles is a leading cause of childhood deaths in the world and also in India. It is a major killer amongst vaccine preventable diseases in children and kills nearly 1 million children worldwide every year. Due to its high mortality and complication rate, the World Health Organization is making concerted efforts to eradicate Measles. Several countries have almost eradicated measles.
When the Measles virus attacks any unimmunized child, the infection quickly spreads to other unprotected children in the neighborhood, leading to an outbreak of Measles. Measles leads to high fever, skin rash, cough, irritability and diarrhea in the child and often leads to complications like pneumonia or swelling of brain which can prove to be fatal.
Complication of Measles:
- Up to 1 out of 20 children get pneumonia.
- Measles is a leading cause of blindness.
- Ear infections and diarrhea.
- Encephalitis or swelling of the brain.
- Flaring up of Tuberculosis.
- Measles can even lead to death which is common in developing countries (like India), where malnutrition and vitamin A deficiency is common.
Mumps is an important viral childhood disease presenting with fever, swelling around cheeks and ears. It is responsible for absenteeism from school. In India, it is estimated that mumps causes loss of 50-60 lakh school days. Absenteeism during exams can play havoc with a child's career. Mumps may also cause significant and ever-lasting complications.
Complications of Mumps:
- Orchitis or swelling of testicles in boys leading to infertility.
- Oophoritis or swelling of ovaries in girls, leading to infertility
- Permanent deafness
- Swelling of the brain or its outer covering
Rubella is a mild disease which presents with mild fever and skin rash with some gland swelling in the neck. However it is a dangerous disease when it occurs in a pregnant woman as it may cause severe defects in the fetus like deafness, mental retardation, heart disease, cataract, jaundice etc. It is reported that every year in the Indian subcontinent, Rubella is the cause of birth of 200,000 such disabled children, who unfortunately become a source of severe mental and financial strain on their parents and the society. It is almost impossible to successfully treat these abnormalities. The commonly caused congenital abnormalities are:
- Congenital heart disease - 25 to 65%.
- Permanent deafness - 80 to 92%.
- Mental retardation along with a small brain - 26%.
- Cataract and eye defects - 35 to 56%.
MMR vaccine: Protecting your child against Measles, Mumps and Rubella
As seen above, Measles, Mumps and Rubella cannot be treated by antibiotics but they can be easily prevented by vaccinating children adequately with two doses of the MMR vaccine. This is a combination vaccine against all the three diseases and in use since the 1960s.
Most countries in the world have controlled these three diseases by universal vaccination of their children with 2 doses of the MMR vaccine. Finland has eradicated all the three diseases as it was the first country to introduce universal vaccination with two doses of MMR vaccine.
The two doses are given at the following ages:
1st dose: at 15-18 months
2nd dose: at 5 years
It is known that not all 100% of children who will receive one dose of MMR will be protected against all the 3 diseases. Moreover, as time passes, the level of protection reduces. The 2nd dose is particularly important because it will protect those few children who did not develop protection with the 1st dose and it will also ensure boosting of protection for the rest, giving them almost life long immunity. The Indian Academy of Pediatrics has recently recommended 2nd dose at age of 5 years in our country. It already is a standard in several Western countries since many years. As many children, who are currently over 5 years may have missed the 2nd dose, it is important to ensure that they receive the 2nd dose of MMR vaccine even at a later age to ensure long term protection.
So, remember just two doses of the MMR vaccine can protect your precious child from the dangers posed by three difficult to treat viral diseases that may cause severe complications. The vaccine is economical too. Take the initiative and discuss about this vaccine and other childhood vaccines with your doctor. Take action on his advice and watch your children grow healthy and protected from such preventable diseases.
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