Immunization is the process by which a person’s immune system is strengthened against infectious diseases. This is done by the administration of a vaccine.
A vaccine is a biological preparation that will improve immunity against a particular disease. The vaccines are made up of agents that are similar to microorganisms and often are weakened or killed forms of the microbes. These agents stimulate the immune system to recognize them as foreign, destroy it and REMEMBER it, so that in later encounters with the microorganism, the immune system will be able to recognize and destroy it. In this manner, the body is learning to protect itself by the production of antibodies and this is called Active Immunization.
There is another type of immunization which is known as Passive Immunization, here preformed antibodies are introduced into the body.
There are two parts of our immune system; innate immune system and adaptive immune system. Our adaptive immune system is what is responsible for immunization.
Children generally have a weaker immune system and are more prone to getting many of the infectious diseases. Hence, they routinely get vaccines to protect them. Some vaccines work best when given at certain ages. Some vaccinations for children are required before they can start school.
Immunization saves up to about 3 million children each year. Most countries have an immunization schedule for children. Below are some of the diseases that children are immunized against:
Measles, Mumps and Rubella
These three disease are treated collectively as one when it comes to there vaccination. The Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine is given in 2 doses and usually between the ages of 12 months and 15 months. There are a few side effects which occur within 7 to 12 days and include; fever, mild rash and a swelling of the glands in the cheek or neck.
- Measles is an acute infectious disease which occurs usually in children between the ages of 6 months and 3 years who have not been immunized or have been unsuccessfully immunized. It is very infectious up to about 7 days before or 5 days after the appearance of a rash. It is caused by the measles virus. Symptoms include: high fever, itchy rash, runny nose, cough, red eyes, sore mouth, diarrhea and the child is generally miserable.
- Mumps is caused by the mumps virus. It is also very contagious.
Symptoms include: fever, headache, muscle ache, tiredness and swollen and tender salivary glands under the ears.
- Rubella is an infectious disease also known as German measles. Half the people who get Rubella do not usually have symptoms. However, symptoms that can arise are a rash and low grade fever.
Diphtheria, Pertussis, Tetanus, Hepatitis B and Heamophilus Influenza type B
In most African countries, there is a pentavalent vaccine used to immunize children against these five diseases. This single vaccine protects against Pertussis, Hepatitis B, Haemophilus Influenza Type B, Tetanus and Diphtheria. However in the United States, there is only a 3 in 1 vaccine known as DTaP for Diphtheria, Pertussis and Tetanus.
- Pertussis, which is also known as whooping cough, is a bacterial respiratory tract infection common in children. It is caused by the bacteria called Bordetella pertussis and symptoms include: cough, fever, poor appetite, runny nose and vomiting.
- Tetanus is caused by a bacterium known as Clostridium tetani which produces a neurotoxin responsible for most of the symptoms. Some of the symptoms include: body stiffness, spasms, constipation and poor feeding.
- Diphtheria is a bacterial infection of the throat and has a high mortality rate. It is caused by the bacterium Corynebacterium diphtheria. Symptoms include: sore throat, dysphagia and stridor.
- Hepatitis B is a contagious virus that affects the liver. Infection could be acute or chronic. Symptoms include: fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, abdominal pain, dark urine, joint pain, jaundice and clay colored bowel movements. Some long term effects include; liver damage, liver failure, liver cancer and death.
- Haemophilus Influenza Type B is the a bacteria. This bacterium is an important cause of infection in children. It is the leading cause of pneumonia and acute bacterial meningitis in children less than 5 years old. It also causes otitis media and epiglottitis.
The BCG vaccine is available to protect children against tuberculosis. This vaccine is given as a single dose at birth and can provide immunity for the child from acquiring tuberculosis. Tuberculosis is a respiratory infection which can be fatal caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The major symptom is chronic cough which can last for weeks with blood or mucus in the sputum.
There is vaccine that protects children from yellow fever, which is given as a single dose at 9 months of age. Yellow fever is caused by transmission of a virus to man by a species of mosquitoes known as Aedes Aegypti that bite infected monkeys. Yellow fever is usually fatal.
Symptoms include: fever, weakness, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea and jaundice.
Poliomyelitis is a viral disease that is characterized by varying degrees of paralysis, especially of the lower limbs. The paralysis may affect any group of skeletal muscles, including those of respiration. Prevention is almost certain if 4 doses of oral polio vaccine are given. It is caused by Polio virus (Types 1, 2 and 3).
Symptoms include: fever, headache, neck stiffness, muscle pain, vomiting and paralysis in a small proportion of patients.
This is the most common cause of diarrhoea in children and can be vaccinated against with a vaccine given in 2 doses, at 6 weeks and 10 weeks after birth. This virus is usually found in infants and younger children. It is spread by the feco oral route (from faeces to mouth). Children become sick with diarrhea. Symptoms include: gastroenteritis, fever, vomiting, loss of appetite, abdominal pain and dehydration.
Every African child is entitled to a healthy life. Ensure to enrol your children for immunisation and cooperate with the health services of your country for the eradication of these childhood killer diseases.
• Standard Treatment Guidelines, Sixth Edition