History of Vaccines Blog
Memorial Day is the traditional start to the summer season in the United States. While having fun and being with friends and family are always at the top of the list of things to do during summer, being safe and staying healthy should also be on our minds. There are some things to be mindful of when heading outdoors to parks and forests. These things include preventing bites from ticks and mosquitoes, cooking and storing food properly, wearing proper sunscreen, swimming safely, and rabies.
Rabies is a viral disease of mammals. While there are plenty of cases of rabies in animals in the United States, human cases are extremely rare, with one or two cases reported each year. This is because there is a robust public health system that responds to cases of possible and confirmed rabies exposure in humans. There is also a functioning veterinary health system -- and public policies -- that require immunization of household pets like cats and dogs. In the rest of the world, most of the 55,000 deaths from human rabies each year happen as a result of dog bites.
May 21, 2012
On May 10, 2012, the Vanderburgh (Indiana) County Health Department issued a health alert regarding hepatitis A associated with a local restaurant. A person with hepatitis A had worked at the restaurant as a bartender, handling food and drinks, between April 20 and May 3, 2012, when the person would have been contagious. Because hepatitis A vaccine is useful in preventing hepatitis A only for 14 days after exposure, some of the people who were exposed did not qualify for vaccination. They were asked to seek medical care if they showed signs and symptoms of hepatitis A. However, those who ate at this restaurant between April 27 and May 3 had an opportunity to be immunized until May 17, 2012. As of May 14, 2012, more than 500 people had requested the vaccination from the health department.
May 18, 2012
Rolling an iron lung across one of the busiest intersections in downtown Philadelphia attracts a sizeable crowd. As the moving crew pushed the machine down Independence Mall around lunchtime on May 17, clutches of students on field trips to see the Liberty Bell gathered around, shouting questions like, “What is that?” “Is that what Michael Jackson slept in?” “Is it a time machine?”
Australian filmmaker Sonya Pemberton was shooting footage for her documentary Jabbed: Love, Fear and Vaccines, to be shown later in 2012 on SBS in Australia, in the United Kingdom, and (perhaps in 2013) on PBS the United States. On her production company’s website, Pemberton describes her film: “Diseases that were largely eradicated forty years ago are returning. Across the world children are dying from preventable conditions because nervous parents are skipping their baby’s shots. And yet the stories of vaccine injury are terrifying, with rare cases of people being hurt, even killed, by vaccines. To vaccinate or not - how do we decide?” Here at The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, her crew is shooting interviews with Paul A. Offit, MD, vaccine developer and College Fellow, as well as filming artifacts from the College’s Historical Medical Library and Mütter Museum collection, many of them already discussed on this website.
May 16, 2012
**Note: this post was updated on 10/1/2012. California Assemblyman Richard Pan, MD (D - Sacramento), introduced Assembly Bill 2109 (AB 2109) on February 23, 2012. In California, parents who object to vaccinating their children may sign a “letter or affidavit stating that the immunization is contrary to his or her beliefs” to use California’s personal belief exemption to vaccinations required for school attendance. AB 2109 expands on that requirement by mandating that parents consult with a licensed healthcare provider in order to receive the exemption. Under AB 2109, the provider would sign a form attesting that he or she informed that parent about the risks and benefits of vaccination and the risks of vaccine-preventable diseases. The parent would sign the form as well. The bill was approved by the California Assembly on May 11, 2012, by a vote of 44 to 19. It was approved by the California State Senate, and Governor Jerry Brown signed it into law on September 29, 2012.
May 15, 2012
The Secretary of Health of the state of Washington declared a pertussis epidemic on April 3, 2012, after the number of reported cases reached 640, compared to 94 cases reported in the same time period in 2011. Pertussis, or “whooping cough,” is a respiratory disease caused by the Bordetella pertussis bacteria. After a person becomes infected, it can take from 7 days to a month for pertussis symptoms to develop. The bacteria cause the disease by releasing toxins that lower the lungs’ ability to clear out respiratory secretions (mucus). After an initial period of a low-grade fever and mild cough, the cough becomes severe and occurs in episodes that prevent the patient from breathing properly, so much so that some patients turn blue during the coughing bouts and for a short time after. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 27,550 cases of pertussis were reported to public health authorities in 2010.
Cholera is one of those diseases that you really don’t want to get. It begins like any other intestinal illness, with abdominal cramps, nausea, and vomiting. Suddenly, a very profuse, watery diarrhea develops. So much water leaves the body through the diarrhea that the person’s mouth becomes dry. He stops urinating because he has no fluid left. Eyes become sunken, and the sufferer loses his energy. During the course of the disease, a person with cholera may pass as many as 13 US gallons (or 50 liters) of fluid. Left untreated, cholera can kill a person in a matter of hours to days from severe dehydration.
May 7, 2012
It has been a little more than 100 years since the discovery of viruses by Martinus Beijerinck. In that time, more than 5,000 different viruses have been discovered and studied. One of those viruses, influenza, has been a scourge to humanity even before we knew it existed. Influenza has caused local epidemics and worldwide pandemics since well before it was discovered. Between 1918 and 1919, influenza killed between 20 and 40 million people worldwide, more than the World War occurring at the time. At the time of the 1918 pandemic, it was believed that the disease was caused by other agents, like the bacteria Haemophilus influenzae. It wasn’t until the 1930’s that the influenza virus was discovered and grown in chicken eggs. In the 1940s, an influenza vaccine was developed and used widely on soldiers during World War II.
May 2, 2012
What do you think about when someone mentions Benjamin Franklin? Do you think of the statesman, the inventor, the man with the kite in the thunderstorm, or the first Postmaster General? Among his many activities and accomplishments, Benjamin Franklin also managed to include a little bit of epidemiology when he wrote the introduction to a pamphlet about variolation in 1759. Epidemiology is the study of “that which comes upon the people.” Two forms of epidemiology are descriptive epidemiology and analytical epidemiology. Analytical epidemiology is done through the use of statistics to research diseases and interventions based on the observations done through descriptive epidemiology. Franklin performed descriptive epidemiology in showing the number of cases of smallpox, the number of deaths attributable to smallpox, and similar descriptive numbers of people who received variolation in colonial Boston.
April 30, 2012
Varicella, or chickenpox, used to be a common childhood infection. Today’s grandparents and most parents can describe vividly what it was like to have chickenpox or to care for a child with this viral illness. Since the broad use of varicella vaccine, the number of cases in the United States has dropped dramatically. Even infants under the age of 6 months who are too young to get the vaccine have had a 90% drop in their rate of chickenpox since the introduction and widespread use of varicella vaccine. But chickenpox has not completely disappeared.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is a city that requires evidence of varicella immunization to attend school (with certain exceptions) and maintains a vigorous surveillance of students attending school to see who has developed chickenpox. This tracking allows public health authorities to see the pattern of spread of chickenpox. A study published in the May 1 edition of the Journal of Infectious Diseases examined varicella cases over a 7-year period, during which about 2300 cases of varicella were seen in Philadelphia public school students.
April 23, 2012
The History of Vaccines invites you to attend The Wistar Institute Authors Series program “The Modern American Vaccine Debate.” The event will be held Tuesday, April 24, at 6:30 pm at The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University in Philadelphia. It is presented as part of the Philadelphia Science Festival. Panelists include Paul Offit, MD, Mark Largent, PhD, Hildegund Ertl, MD, and Jason Schwartz, MBE. The event is free, but registration is required. We hope to see you there – the History of Vaccines will be exhibiting at the event.