Monday, January 5, 2009

Getting to Know a Public Health Nurse

I’ve always been fascinated by viruses, bacteria, etc… now I get to discuss, educate, and read about them regularly. I have to admit, learning about all the scary and exotic diseases in the world does make me a bit paranoid at times, but it’s comforting to know that there are things we can do to prevent many of them. (Wash your hands! Get vaccinated!)

Being young myself, I had never heard of, much less seen or experienced, many of the diseases that were so familiar to my grandparents and older generations. It is because of vaccines that diseases like measles, polio, and mumps are much less common now than they were even thirty years ago. During immunization clinics, we frequently hear concerns from parents regarding vaccines, and unfortunately many are choosing not to immunize. Of course, any type of medical intervention has risk, and it is understandable to worry about your child; however, most young parents have never had to experience the physical and emotional pain caused by widespread diseases before vaccination was commonplace. I remember hearing a story about a work colleague of my parents’…. She had decided not to immunize her young son against Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) because it has become relatively rare since the introduction of the vaccine. While still a toddler, he developed Hib meningitis and nearly died. Fortunately, he recovered fully, but one hopes that it won’t take more illness or death before we all understand the importance of vaccines.

Working in the communicable disease control program has given me a new appreciation for the vaccines now available to us. Unfortunately, we still regularly hear about people with infections from vaccine-preventable diseases. Often, those people were never vaccinated, or are under-vaccinated for various reasons. Whooping cough, in particular, has been making a comeback in the last decade. This is proof positive that diseases can, and will, return with a vengeance if we are not vigilant about prevention and surveillance.

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