Illnesses Preventable by Vaccination

• Diphtheria killed 13,000 to 15,000 people a year.

• Polio killed at least 1,000 and paralyzed as many as 20,000 annually.

• Measles infected 3 million to 4 million, causing 6,000 deaths, each year.

• Smallpox once took the lives of millions (it has now been eradicated).

The following illnesses are all preventable by vaccinations today:

  • Diphtheria
  • HPV
  • Haemophilus Influenzae Meningitis (HiB)
  • Hepatitis A
  • Hepatitis
  • Influenza
  • Measles
  • Mumps
  • Pertussis
  • Pneumococcal Disease
  • Polio
  • Rotavirus
  • Rubella (German Measles)
  • Tetanus
  • Varicella (Chickenpox)


    • What it is: A serious bacterial infection affecting the nose and throat.
    • Transmission: Respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, or through objects or food contaminated with these droplets.
    • Symptoms: Sore throat, painful swallowing, hoarseness, fever, chills, barking cough, bloody watery drainage from the nose.
    • Complications: Dangerous substances produced by the bacteria can spread through the bloodstream to other organs, causing inflammation of the heart, nerve problems and paralysis, and kidney damage. Fatal in 10 percent of cases.
    • Preventable since: 1921.
    • Cases: Fewer than five cases per year in the United States.
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    • What it is: A sexually transmitted virus.
    • Transmission: Genital and skin-to-skin contact.
    Symptoms: No symptoms.
    • Complications: Approximately 15 of the 100 identified strains of the virus can cause cervical, penile and anal cancer.
    • Preventable since: 2006.
    es: The American Social Health Association estimates that about 5.5 million new cases occur each year in the United States.
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    Haemophilus Influenzae Meningitis (HiB)

    • What it is: A bacterial infection of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord.
    • Transmission: Direct contact or through respiratory droplets. It is not highly contagious, but the bacteria can – usually on the heels of an upper respiratory infection – spread to the blood stream and then to the membranes covering the spinal cord and brain.
    • Symptoms: Irritability, fever, headache, stiff neck, nausea and vomiting.
    • Complications: Hearing loss and brain damage. Fatal in about 3 percent to 5 percent of cases.
    • Preventable since: 1987.
    es: About 70 per year in the United States between 1996 and 2000.
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    Hepatitis A

    • What it is: A liver disease caused by a virus.
    • Transmission: Ingestion of the fecal matter of an infected person, usually through contaminated food or water.
    • Symptoms: Fever, fatigue, nausea, jaundice.
    • Complications: Kills approximately 100 people each year in the United States.
    • Preventable since: 1995.
    es: About 42,000 new cases in the United States in 2005.
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    Hepatitis B

    • What it is: A disease that causes liver inflammation.
    • Transmission: Blood and other bodily fluids. Can be transmitted through sharing of contaminated needles by IV drug users, sexual contact, getting a tattoo or acupuncture with a contaminated needle, or during birth.
    • Symptoms: Fatigue, low-grade fever, joint and abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite and jaundice.
    • Complications: An acute infection usually clears in two to three weeks without causing permanent damage. However, some infected people develop chronic hepatitis B, which can cause liver failure and death.
    • Preventable since: 1982.
    es: There were 6,212 new cases and 5,392 deaths in the United States in 2004.
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    • What it is: A contagious viral infection of the nose, throat and lungs.
    • Transmission: Breathing in droplets produced through the coughs or sneezes of an infected person, or touching a surface that has the virus on it then touching the mouth, nose or eyes.
    • Symptoms: Fever, body aches, lack of energy, headache, vomiting, dry cough, sore throat, runny nose, sneezing.
    • Complications: Include pneumonia and encephalitis (infection of the brain).
    • Preventable since: 1945.
    • Cases: Tens of millions of people in the United States get the flu each year. About 36,000 die from complications of the flu.
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    • What it is: A highly contagious virus.
    • Transmission: Breathing droplets produced by the coughs or sneezes of an infected person.
    • Symptoms: A rash on the face, neck and body; fever; runny nose; cough; loss of appetite; and “pinkeye.”
    • Complications: Diarrhea, ear infections, pneumonia, inflammation of the brain and death in about one in 500 cases.
    • Preventable since: 1963.
    • Cases: An outbreak in the United States during the late 1980s and early 1990s, due to low vaccination rates, included more than 55,000 cases. Just 37 cases were reported in 2004.
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    • What it is: A contagious virus.
    • Transmission: Breathing droplets produced by the coughs or sneezes of an infected person.
    • Symptoms: Swelling of the salivary glands below the ear, headache, fever.
    • Complications: Meningitis, hearing loss, increase in miscarriages if exposed during the early months of pregnancy.
    • Preventable since: 1967.
    • Cases: 258 reported cases in the United States in 2004.
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    • What it is: A highly contagious bacterial infection causing uncontrollable coughing, also known as whooping cough.
    • Transmission: Tiny droplets produced when an infected person sneezes or coughs.
    • Symptoms: Severe episodes of coughing, ending in a “whooping” sound in children. Coughing spells can lead to vomiting, or to choking episodes.
    • Complications: Can cause permanent disability due to brain damage, or even death, in infants.
    • Preventable since: The 1930s.
    • Cases: 25,827 cases in the United States in 2004.
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    Pneumococcal Disease

    • What it is: A bacterial infection that can cause pneumonia, bacteremia (bacteria in the bloodstream) and meningitis.
    • Transmission: Person-to-person through respiratory droplets in the air.
    • Symptoms: For pneumococcal pneumonia – fever, shaking chills, shortness of breath, rapid breathing and heart rate, weakness. Pneumococcal bacteremia is a secondary infection that occurs in some cases of pneumococcal pneumonia. For pneumococcal meningitis – headache, fatigue, vomiting, fever, seizures and coma.
    • Complications: Pneumococcal disease kills more people in the United States each year than all other vaccine-preventable illnesses combined.
    • Preventable since: 2000.
    • Cases: It is estimated that 45,000 cases of pneumococcal meningitis and blood infections occur each year in the United States. Pneumonia and middle-ear infections are also commonly caused by the bacteria, but are not considered invasive.
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    • What it is: A viral infection of the nerves.
    • Transmission: Direct person-to-person contact, contact with infected secretions from the nose or mouth, or contact with infected stool.
    • Symptoms: Can range from no symptoms at all to slight fever, headache and general discomfort for a subclinical infection. More severe cases can include diarrhea, vomiting, fatigue, pain, stiffness and muscle spasms.
    • Complications: Temporary or permanent paralysis, or death.
    • Preventable since: 1955.
    • Cases: As of the end of 2005, polio existed only in Nigeria, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
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    • What it is: A viral infection that causes severe diarrhea.
    • Transmission: Contact with the stool of an infected person.
    • Symptoms: Fever, nausea and vomiting, followed by abdominal cramps and frequent watery diarrhea.
    • Complications: The diarrhea can become so severe that it leads to dehydration, and even death. However, this is more common in developing countries without adequate medical care.
    • Preventable since: 2006.
    • Cases: Millions. Causes approximately 3 million cases of diarrhea and 55,000 hospitalizations each year in the United States.
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    • What it is: A virus, also known as German measles.
    • Transmission: Breathing droplets produced by the coughs or sneezes of an infected person.
    • Symptoms: Rash, fever, swelling of glands in the neck, and upper respiratory infection.
    • Complications: Brain infection, blood problems, congenital Rubella syndrome (CRS) – causing birth defects, premature delivery, and death to babies of women exposed during the first trimester of pregnancy.
    • Preventable since: 1969.
    • Cases: Two outbreaks in 1990 and 1991 in the United States resulted in the births of 58 babies with CRS.
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    • What it is: A potentially fatal nervous-system disease.
    • Transmission: Bacterial spores that live in the soil and enter the body through a wound.
    • Symptoms: The bacteria makes a poison that blocks signals from the spinal cord to the muscles and triggers muscle spasms strong enough to tear muscles or cause compression fractures of the vertebrae. Spasms usually begin in the jaw and neck, then move to the chest, back and abdomen.
    • Complications: Without treatment, one of every three people with tetanus will die, generally from respiratory arrest, brain damage due to lack of oxygen, or heart failure.
    • Preventable since: 1924.
    • Cases: 534 cases were reported in the United States between 1990 and 2001.
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    Varicella (Chickenpox)

    • What it is: A virus.
    • Transmission: Direct contact, or through breathing in droplets from the coughs or sneezes of an infected person.
    • Symptoms: Itching rash, fever, coughing, headache.
    • Complications: Bacterial infection of the skin or other parts of the body, pneumonia, brain infection.
    • Preventable since: 1995.
    • Cases: Since the vaccine was licensed, the number of cases has fallen by 93 percent in the United States.
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    Sources: Immunization Action Coalition, National Institutes of Health, Nemours Foundation and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

  • More about IMMUNIZATIONS:

  • Keeping Up with Immunizations for Kids

  • Printable Immunization Schedules: For ages Birth-6; ages 7-18; and for catching up if you're off schedule.