Most children get sick at some point. For most American children, however, sickness is much less frequent, traumatic, and life threatening than it was just several decades ago. Research by a number of NIH institutes and centers is continuing to improve the outlook for childhood diseases every day. That is now the case for teens, as well.
Children encounter many infectious diseases, especially in the early months and years of life. Some upper respiratory viral or bacterial infections—such as colds, bronchitis, or croup— are quite common and difficult to avoid. The same can be said for ear infections, sinusitis, impetigo (skin infection), and conjunctivitis (pinkeye).
Beyond these childhood infections, however, there is one word that stands for much of the progress in battling children's infectious diseases: vaccines. Vaccines have been incredibly effective in preventing childhood diseases and improving child mortality rates.
For example, measles is one highly contagious disease for which we have a highly effective vaccine, notes Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).
"Measles is one of the most contagious viruses that infect man, and it can cause serious disease," says Dr. Fauci. "There are two important facts about the measles vaccine. Number one, the measles vaccine is one of the most highly effective vaccines we have against any microbe, and number two, it is a very safe vaccine. Not vaccinating your children puts them at risk, and that is really a shame."
"For some people, the idea of not vaccinating their child is based on the misperception that the risk of the vaccine is greater than the risk of the disease, and therefore, they don't want to expose their child to the vaccine," he says.
"That is not good for the child, and it is not good for the community. So, it really is unfortunate that some people have this misperception about vaccines."—Dr. Anthony Fauci
One important vaccine the CDC recommends for children is the DTap vaccine, which protects against diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (also known as whooping cough). Diphtheria is a serious bacterial infection that leads to breathing problems. Pertussis can cause violent and rapid coughing and hinder breathing, and tetanus is a serious bacterial infection that most commonly causes spasms of the jaw muscles and can be fatal if not prevented or treated.
Thanks to a highly effective vaccine, 80 percent of the world's population—including the U.S.—lives in certified polio-free regions, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The CDC recommends children in the U.S. receive four doses of the inactivated polio vaccine (IPV), starting at two months of age. Other important childhood vaccines include the PCV vaccine, which protects against pneumococccus, and the seasonal flu shot. Young children are at a greater risk of getting seriously ill from the flu, especially infants younger than six months who are too young to be vaccinated. A certain strain of pneumonia can lead to blood infections and meningitis, which is covered in the vaccine.
Children should also receive the MMR vaccine to protect against measles, mumps, and rubella. The CDC recommends one dose at 12 through 15 months of age and a second dose at four through six years of age. Measles infection typically causes a high fever and rash, and about one of four people who gets measles will be hospitalized. The infection can lead to ear infections, hearing loss, and in rarer cases, brain swelling and death. Mumps is known for the swelling of the cheeks and jaw and can occasionally lead to serious complications, such as encephalitis and deafness. Rubella, also known as the German measles, causes fever and rash.
Additional recommended immunizations for young children include HepB (protects against hepatitis B), HepA (protects against hepatitis A), RV (protects against rotavirus), Hib (protects against Haemophilus influenzae type b), and Varicella (protects against chicken pox).
The vaccination charts that follow offer a simple overview of what childhood and teen vaccines to take, when to take them, and why.