With the exception of clean drinking water, it has been proven that vaccines are the most effective means of reducing and preventing contagious diseases, preventing an estimated 2.5 million deaths each year. Among the deaths prevented are those that may come as a result of diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis that also afflict children.
Diphtheria is a bacterial infection caused by Corynebacterium diphtheriae. Diphtheria causes a thick covering in the back of the throat, leading to difficulty in breathing, heart failure, paralysis, and even death. Diphtheria is transmitted by droplets spread through sneezing, coughing, and close personal contact. The risk of diphtheria transmission is increased in schools, hospitals, households, and in crowded areas, warns the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Meanwhile, tetanus is a bacterial infection caused by Clostridium tetani. When the bacteria invade the body, they produce a poison (toxin) that causes painful muscle contractions. Another name for tetanus is “lockjaw” as it often causes a person’s neck and jaw muscles to lock, making it hard to open the mouth or swallow. Maternal and Neonatal Tetanus (MNT) is among the most common life-threatening consequences of unclean deliveries and umbilical cord care practices. When tetanus develops, mortality rates are extremely high, especially when appropriate medical care is not available. This happens despite the fact that MNT deaths can be prevented by hygienic delivery and cord care practices, and/or by immunizing children and women with Tetanus Toxoid Containing Vaccines (TTCV), including the DTaP vaccine.
Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis. Pertussis is known for uncontrollable violent coughing which often makes it hard to breathe. After cough fits, someone with pertussis often needs to take deep breaths, which result in a “whooping” sound. Pertussis can affect people of all ages, but can be very serious, even deadly, for babies less than a year old. Infants have trouble fighting off the infection, therefore, they suffer the highest rates of hospital admission and death.
Pertussis is a contagious disease and is spread through the air from person to person by direct contact with respiratory droplets generated during sneezing and coughing. Infants often get pertussis from older brothers and sisters, parents, or other caregivers who might not even know they have it. The advice is to keep anyone with a cough away from babies and newborns. Another way is to make sure that everyone who comes in contact with infants is up-to-date on their vaccination.
Under the Expanded Program on Immunization of the Department of Health, infants are immunized with three doses of the DTaP vaccine to protect them from diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis. Most children who are vaccinated with DTaP will be protected from these infectious diseases throughout childhood.
For more information, please consult your doctor.
Teodoro B. Padilla is the executive director of Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP). Medicine Cabinet is a weekly PHAP column that aims to promote awareness on public health and health care-related issues.