Thursday, March 6, 2008

a word on vaccinations...

As a student of Epidemiology, it has been ingrained into me that vaccinations are one of the most natural* ways of stopping infectious disease in its tracks... and the eradication of small pox is just one example.

However, if polio, mumps, measles, rubella, etc come back as a rampant infectious disease due to the lack of people being immunized, will we as health care workers know how to treat it?

I met a gentleman today who, at the age of 3 (some 75 years ago) contracted polio. Currently, his right leg was distinctly smaller then his left, and although he was lucky and it only affected his leg, he has spent his whole life with a limp, and wearing a brace.

He was in the ED today because his polio affected leg hasn't worked properly lately.

I overheard the docs talking to each other... these docs are seasoned, and in their late 40s early 50s. They, most likely, have NEVER seen a case of 1) actual polio, and 2) much related to polio 70+ years after the fact. They didn't really know polio that well, and what to do with this patient. They must have figured something out (with some research) because they ended up discharging the patient back home after some reassurance and treatment.

My question is this: If seasoned medical professionals are having a problem working with a problem related to a disease that hasn't effected a person in 75 years, then how the HELL are they going to work with an ACTIVE case?

Something to think about.

** being exposed to the environment and building antibodies towards foreign invaders is what the body's immune system does naturally. Without going into technical detail, vaccines are made of components similar to actual bugs (or a protein the bug makes) that provide the building block for antibodies to be created in the body. This means that if one who is vaccinated is exposed to the ACTUAL pathogen, there is a systemic response causing the body to "remember" this bug and kill it fairly easily. If there was no vaccine or prior exposure to something very similar, the body does not have an internal defense already in place . Instead, it has to create one, which takes time. This makes the body more susceptible to that pathogen. Essentially, if one is thus exposed to the pathogen, and is susceptible, the immune system may be overwhelmed and the person will begin to show symptoms of the disease. Once the illness is over, however, as long as the disease-causing pathogen does not evolve/change, the body would most likely be protected later. (think Chickenpox.. you don't get it twice!). Vaccinations essentially allow you to skip the "sickness" part, or at least mellow it down quite a bit. Not too shabby for a day of an arm hurting post-vaccine.

1 comment:

crazyrn2be said...

My 48 year old brother in law contracted polio as a child and he also has one leg smaller than the other. Along with hip problems (those are what I am aware of). I never realized the importance of immunizations until I met him. Now, I am a stickler, even with my animals!!!