The control of infectious disease through immunization is one of the greatest public achievements of the past century. In the United States, the availability of vaccines has reduced or nearly eliminated many infectious diseases that once caused death for thousands of children and adults. Below is a list of 10 deadly diseases that have been eliminated or virtually eliminated in the U.S. thanks to preventative vaccines.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, smallpox was a worldwide endemic disease that was a leading cause of death. Smallpox is caused by the variola virus and is transmitted from person to person through face-to-face contact or contact with contaminated bodily fluids, clothing or bedding. The symptoms of the disease include a rash, high fever, vomiting and aching pain. Although a vaccine was discovered in 1796, it was not widely used until the 20th century. Following a concerted worldwide effort at immunization, the deadly disease was completely eradicated in 1979.
At the height of the poliomyelitis pandemic in the 1950s, an average of 50,000 caseswere reported in the United States each year. The most severe cases of this infectious viral disease result in paralysis or death. Thanks to polio vaccines, the disease has been totally eradicated from the U.S. and the entire Western Hemisphere. Worldwide, vaccines have reduced the incidence of polio from hundreds of thousands per year to less than a thousand.
- Yellow Fever
The Yellow Fever virus, which is transmitted by the bite of infected mosquitos, can lead to severe liver disease with bleeding. The disease occurred at epidemic levels in the U.S. throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. Thanks to mosquito control and the yellow fever vaccine, which was developed in 1936, yellow fever outbreaks have been eliminated in the United States.
- Typhoid Fever
This bacterial disease is transmitted by ingesting food or water contaminated with the feces of an infected person or through insects that have fed on feces. Typhoid fever was widespread in the U.S. in the 19th century, especially in the military during the Civil War. Thanks to immunization and advances in public sanitation, theincidence of typhoid fever in developed countries has been reduced to about five cases per one million people per year.
Rubella, also known as German measles, can cause congenital rubella syndrome (CRS) in infants whose mothers are infected with the disease during their first trimester of pregnancy. The effects of CRS include heart defects, intellectual disability and deafness. Between 1963 and 1965, a rubella epidemic in the U.S. is estimated to have caused 11,000 stillbirths and 20,000 cases of impairment in infants. Due to widespread use of the rubella vaccine, both rubella and CRS were eliminated in the United States in 2004.
Rabies, which is one of the deadliest viral diseases, is transmitted through the bite of an infected animal. According to the CDC, the majority of rabies cases in the U.S. were once caused by domestic animals. Thanks to pet vaccinations, most cases are now caused by wildlife. The human vaccine, which was developed by Louis Pasteur in 1885, is the only post-exposure vaccination used to treat human disease. Thanks to animal and human vaccines, the number of cases of rabies in the U.S. has declined from more than 100 per year at the turn of the 20th century to one or two per year.
- Haemophilus Influenza Type B
Before the Hib vaccination was introduced in 1987, about 20,000 infants and children became seriously ill each year from Hib bacterium. Hib can cause a wide range of infections, including meningitis, pneumonia and other bloodstream infections. Since introduction of the Hib vaccine, the incidence of infection has dropped by 98 percent in the United States.
Tetanus, which is also known as lockjaw, is a serious disease that causes death in 30 percent of people who contract it. The bacteria that cause tetanus grow in soil and enter the body through a cut or wound. Before introduction of routine childhood immunization in the 1940s, there were 500 to 600 U.S. tetanus cases per year. Since 2000, an average of 31 cases have been reported annually in the United States.
Prior to introduction of the mumps vaccine, there were approximately 200,000 U.S.cases of mumps per year and 20 to 30 deaths. Although mumps is a mild disease in many cases, it can lead to swelling of the spinal cord, seizures, paralysis and fluid in the brain. Twenty-five percent of men and teenage boys who contract the disease are at risk of sterility and testicular cancer. Since the mumps vaccine was approved by the FDA in 1967, there are now hundreds rather than thousands of cases per year in the United States.
More than two centuries have passed since the development of the first smallpox vaccine. Today, immunization is one of the most important tools used to fight debilitating and fatal diseases like smallpox, polio and diphtheria. The American Academy of Pediatrics, American Medical Association, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the CDC, UNICEF and many other organizations credit vaccines with saving lives and improving the health of populations around the world.