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August is the month to think about immunizations
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Three British doctors have been charged with professional misconduct and unethical behavior as a result of a research that cumulated in a 1998 report produced and published in a prestigious British medical journal.

The report stated there was a documented link between the MMR vaccine and autism and bowel disease. Hearings are currently underway that could result in the lost of their medical licences.

Charges that one of the physicians was working with lawyers representing children claiming to have suffered harm because of the vaccination will also be investigated.

MMR is a combined vaccine against measles, mumps and rubella (three common childhood infectious diseases) and replaces single vaccines for each disease. The 1998 study sparked heated debate among researchers around the world and caused a significant decline in MMR vaccinations as parents feared the possibility that it could lead to autism.

Autism is a developmental condition causing physical, social and learning problems. Health experts in the United Kingdom say vaccination numbers have not yet recovered to the level seen before this study and at one point the rates sunk to 75 per cent in Britain, well below the 95 percent authorities say is needed to keep these diseases from circulating.

While the rate has since climbed to about 85 percent, Britain continues to suffer outbreaks of these three diseases and to seed them abroad.

The mumps outbreak that Nova Scotia and a few other provinces have been fighting since last winter seem to trace back to a case from Britain.

A Public Health success story, immunizations provide effective protection against serious infectious diseases. Controversy over studies such as the one conducted by the British physicians naturally affects the effectiveness of immunization programs. Even those in the United States.

Measles, mumps and rubella are highly contagious viral diseases. You can catch them if you are exposed to the coughs and sneezes of an infected person.

Measles is one of the most infectious diseases in the world and is frequently imported into the U.S. Most cases of measles now seen are associated with international visitors or U.S. residents who were exposed to the measles virus while traveling abroad.

Complications from measles include pneumonia, seizures, brain damage and death.

More than 90 percent of people who are not immune will get measles if they are exposed to the virus, 20 percent of those infected with measles will require hospitalization and as many as three out of every 1,000 persons with measles will die in the U.S.

Not as deadly, complications of mumps include painful swelling of the testicles that affects about one in five adolescent and adult men and that may lead to infertility in rare cases. The infection can also cause permanent deafness.

Women who become infected with rubella (German Measles) while they are pregnant, stand an increased risk of having a baby born with birth abnormalities that could include deafness, blindness, heart defects and intellectual disabilities.

The majority of vaccines, including MMR, are given during the first five to six years of life because young children are particularly vulnerable to infection.

Other immunizations are recommended during adolescent or adult years and because some vaccines wear out in time, booster immunization are recommended throughout life for those vaccines.

Public Health officials frequently update vaccination schedules to include newly tested and approved vaccines such as the human papillomavirus vaccine for adolescent girls.

Adult residents are encouraged to get immunized for Hepatitis B, flu and pneumonia because of how common those cases have become. Infants are now routinely immunized for Hepatitis B and parents are encouraged to make sure infants over 6 months of age receive flu vaccine each year to minimize complications frequently found in the young and elderly.

Vaccines against certain diseases that may be encountered when traveling outside of the U.S. are recommended for travelers to specific regions of the world as are those that are commonly seen in people in particular occupations or people with compromised immune systems.

Recognized as National Immunization Awareness Month (NIAM), the month of August is used by health professionals to increase awareness about immunizations across the life span - from infants to the elderly.

This month was chosen because it’s a time when so many children and young adults are headed back to school and healthcare providers are organizing vaccine campaigns against flu and pneumonia.

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