In this third installment of Vaccines: What You Need to Know, we’ll compare the risks of vaccination with the risks of infection. For a review of how immune responses and vaccines work, please see our earlier posts How the Immune System Works and How Vaccines Work.
As described in our How Vaccines Work post, vaccines were developed to protect people from dangerous infections that have high rates of morbidity (illness) and mortality (death). These types of infections, which we refer to as high-risk infections, cause severe disease the first time you become infected. In today’s post, we’ll compare the risks of high-risk infections with the risks associated with vaccination, using pertussis (whooping cough) as an example. We’ll also link to some great (and credible) sites that debunk the association between the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism.
Before we get into the precise risks of vaccination versus infection, it is important to understand the overall impact vaccines have had on public health. In the United States, vaccination has reduced the rates of illness from certain diseases like smallpox, diphtheria, and polio by 100%. For a great infographic on the impact of vaccines in the 21st century, click here. If you’re more of a numbers person, click here for a pdf of the data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). Also see Figure 1, which shows the effect that vaccination has had on pertussis, a disease we’ll be talking about in more depth later in the post.
Figure 1. Reported Cases of Pertussis (Whooping Cough) in the United States by Year
Data are from the National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System. Raw data can be accessed here.
This is a challenging question that delves into conflicting research and opinionated online information. Here is the skinny: these days, many products found in grocery stores have artificial sweeteners, including yogurt, baked goods, soda beverages, jams, candy bars, and much, much more! If you think consuming these sweeteners helps you lose weight, think again. I found a number of research studies and articles reporting that people who consume, on average, more artificial sweeteners (reported to cause slowed metabolism) tend to GAIN weight! Other commonly reported symptoms coinciding with artificial sweetener consumption include headaches, mood changes, tiredness, abdominal pain, cramps, and dizziness. While I have never been a big fan of diet sodas, one close friend who decided to stop drinking these beverages reported having improved blood sugar control and decreased body weight and symptoms.
Still not sure? While the FDA has approved many artificial sweeteners, we can’t be completely sure about their safety because long-term use in humans has not been studied fully. If your diet includes artificial sweeteners, consider doing your own study. Weigh yourself and note any symptoms you currently experience. Then, for 2 weeks, avoid those packaged pink, blue, and yellow sweeteners and foods that contain sucralose (Splenda), aspartame (NutraSweet and Equal), and saccharin (Sweet’N Low). Drink water and freshly brewed unsweetened tea. Keep a daily diary of how you feel. You might be surprised with the results!
Need help getting started? Here are a few suggestions:
Now is a perfect time to do spring cleaning. Go through your cupboards and refrigerator. Read the labels. Consider tossing out items that contain artificial sweeteners.
Not quite willing to toss these items? Consume in moderation and eliminate over time.
Avoid sodas and flavored water and go for pure H2O. Make a good effort to drink at least 8 glasses a day. If this is hard, try keeping a pitcher of water with sliced lemons, limes, oranges, or cucumbers in the refrigerator.
Freshly brewed green iced tea is another healthy alternative that provides a small amount of caffeine along with antioxidants and other substances that help decrease the risk of cancer and diabetes.
If you need sweetness, use a small bit of unrefined cane sugar, honey, or, if you can find it, stevia (an herb known for its sweet leaves). Check out Oprah’s List of Natural Sweeteners for other healthy options.
Remember, change is hard! If you just can’t quite eliminate all artificial sweeteners, consider decreasing the amount you (and your family) consume. Over time, you might find that you really don’t need “all that sweetness.” Congratulations! You and your taste buds have changed!
Whenever traveling abroad, it is important that you protect yourself and those you are traveling with against diseases you might encounter. Malaria, hepatitis, polio, and typhoid are not often seen in the US but are highly prevalent in many countries. Here are some things to consider:
Research your trip itinerary to determine what vaccine-preventable diseases you might encounter and which travel vaccinations you should receive. Even if you have traveled to another country before, new health alerts could be present. Check out this helpful resource: Travel Immunizations.
Schedule a visit with your doctor or a travel medicine provider 4 to 6 weeks before your trip. Many vaccines take time to work in your body. Some vaccines are given in a series of days or weeks, before, during, or even after you return home. The Center for Disease Control (CDC: Vaccinations) is an excellent resource for this information.
The tetanus vaccine is good for up to 10 years, which makes it hard to remember when you might need a booster. Be sure to check your health records for your last immunization and to carry a copy of your vaccination record with you when you travel.
Don’t ruin your trip with unexpected health problems. Plan ahead and be prepared. Travel safely and use common sense. Be careful about food and water. Wear protective clothing or repellant to prevent insect bites. Use sunscreen!
Be sure to check your passport expiration date. If it expires within 6 months, you might not be allowed to travel. Share your itinerary and contact information with a family member or friend in case of an emergency, whether at home or abroad.
In this post, we will use many medical and immunological terms. Although some of the terms are pretty basic, a cheat sheet is provided below for quick reference. Please see our How the Immune System Works post for additional immunology-related terms.
Microorganisms that cause disease
Invaders that enter the body and can make a person sick
Invasion of the body with pathogens that replicate and cause disease
When invaders are actively growing inside a person’s body, typically making the person feel sick
A condition that impairs normal body functions and is accompanied by a defined set of symptoms
Sickness or illness; in this post, we’ll be talking about infectiousdisease—disease caused when a pathogen infects the body
Objective evidence of disease
Measurable evidence of disease; examples include increased temperature, swollen lymph nodes, bleeding
Subjective evidence of disease
Personal experience of illness; examples include chills, fever, fatigue, and sore throat
The state of being immune; the ability to resist infection by a particular pathogen
When a person’s body is able to fight off pathogens (invaders) before they can infect the body and cause illness
Any molecule that can be identified and targeted by the immune response
A tag that can be used to identify the invaders
A protein that specifically binds its antigen
A projectile that is attracted to a specific invader; once stuck to an invader, it alerts soldiers to help destroy the invader
Immunity: What Is It and Why Is It Important?
As described in How the Immune System Works, your immune system works continuously to protect you from infection with pathogens—microorganisms that can cause disease. Your immune system uses a variety of mechanisms to fight off new infections as they occur, but it also has the property of memory, which helps to prevent you from getting sick from the same pathogen multiple times.
Immunologic memory allows the body to react more quickly and strongly each time the same pathogen is encountered. In practical terms, this means that each time you become infected with the same pathogen, your body is more able to protect you from getting sick. So, while you may get very sick the first time you are infected with a certain pathogen, you may only get a little sick the second time. By the third or fourth time you encounter the same pathogen, your body responds so quickly and strongly, you don’t even become noticeably sick (see Figure 1).
Vaccines have a long history of helping to prevent disease. Even so, many people still don’t understand the facts about how vaccines work, their safety, and their importance to the health of communities. In this series of blog posts, we will
Describe how your immune system works
Explain how vaccines work
Explore vaccines’ importance to public health
Examine the risks and benefits of vaccines
Describe how vaccination is a lifelong commitment to your health
We’ll also point you to some online resources that are informative, interactive, fun, and trustworthy.
How the Immune System Works
To understand how vaccines work, you need to know how the immune system works—so that’s where we’ll start. In this post, we’ll describe the parts of the immune system and show you step by step what happens each time your body encounters a new threat.
The Immune System: Your Defense in the War Against Infectious Disease
The immune system is a collection of tissues, cells, and molecules spread throughout your body that work together to defend against infection by pathogens—tiny organisms, such as bacteria and viruses, that cause disease. To picture how this works, you can think of a war, where the immune system represents the good guys and the pathogens are the invaders. We’ll use battle terms throughout our posts to describe specific immune functions.
In developed countries like the United States, the number of people being diagnosed with autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis (MS) and type 1 diabetes are increasing. Recently, scientists identified a possible culprit—salt.
What does salt do in your body?
Sodium (1 of the 2 molecules that make up salt) is necessary for the body to function correctly. It helps your nerves transmit information and your muscles contract. However, your body requires only a very small amount of sodium per day. Current United States dietary recommendations call for a maximum intake of 2300 mg of sodium per person per day, which is equal to approximately 1 teaspoon of salt. However, many experts, including the American Heart Association, recommend even less (1500 mg of sodium per person per day, or about ⅔ of a teaspoon of salt). The average American consumes 3400 mg of sodium per day (about 1½ teaspoons of salt), much of it from processed food.
Our friends at Blip Care recently unveiled their new wireless weight scale and the world’s first wireless blood pressure (BP) monitor—both of which use Wi-Fi to connect to an online portal that allows users to track and visualize their data over time.