Caring for Kids…at Billings Clinic

5 illnesses children are immunized for by age 2

In a previous blog, I covered immunizations for children younger than one year old and the diseases they prevent. Now we will talk about the second year of life.  First we booster some previously given vaccines (click here for previous blog) including pneumococcal 13 (bacteria causing pneumonia, and meningitis) haemopholius influenza type B (meningitis), and DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (whopping cough).

And now the new ones…

Age one is the first time that children get vaccines that include live attenuated viruses.  These are vaccines that rather than using parts of the virus or bacteria, we actually use a modified version of the virus itself to trigger the body’s immune response. Viruses that are used for vaccines can no longer cause disease. One analogy is to think of the virus or bacteria as a bad guy with a uniform and a gun who could do a lot of damage to our bodies.  A live attenuated virus leaves the bad guy and their uniform in place but removes the gun. To the body, he still looks like a real threat.

Let’s get down to specifics:

Varicella – This vaccine protects against the virus everyone knows as chicken pox.  This is one of the newer vaccines and as a result, probably the only illness on this list that most parents had as children.  We all survived, right? Why do we need a vaccine? Before the vaccine 100-150 people died each year from chicken pox, usually from complications like secondary skin infections, pneumonia, and encephalitis (brain infections).  For those who don’t remember or (gasp) are too young to remember chicken pox; it causes fevers, fatigue and itchy rash.  I had no serious complications and although it was nearly 30 years ago I still remember how miserable I was for a week. I would do anything now to save my kids from that experience.  And lucky for me I have the vaccine that I am sure my mother would have paid anything for after missing two weeks of work with two kids with back-to-back infections.

Measles – Measles is a virus that causes fevers, fatigue, runny nose, cough and characteristic rash.  Unfortunately you are contagious up to 4 days before the rash appears.  Thus you are infecting people with measles while your symptoms appear to be just a common cold.  Measles is highly contagious and will infect nearly every unvaccinated person who is merely in the same room as a contagious person.

Prior to the vaccine it caused around 500 deaths per year and another 1000 people would develop long term complications because of measles encephalopathy (infection of the brain). Thanks to a very effective vaccine measles is uncommon in the U.S., but many parts of the world still have the disease.  This becomes especially problematic when people from those areas travel to the U.S. or unvaccinated people travel to those countries. The travelers then infect other unvaccinated people.  In recent years there have been more and more outbreaks in unvaccinated populations all across the U.S.


Mumps – A virus that causes fever, fatigue and the characteristic swollen salivary glands.  Most people recover but a few can have complications including encephalitis (remember brain infection) and deafness, AND listen up dads – orchitis – infected and swollen testicles.  Reason enough to get the vaccine right?

Rubella (German measles) – A viral disease that is relatively benign for most people.  It causes fever and rash, but 50% of people infected have no symptoms.  What? Doesn’t seem to fit with all these other awful diseases.  This one is a problem for pregnant women and specifically for her unborn child.  If a woman contracts rubella early in pregnancy she has a 20% chance of having a child with birth defects including, deafness, cataracts, heart defects, mental retardation, and liver and spleen damage.

Hepatitis A – Hepatitis A is a virus causing liver infection (hepatitis).  Rarely does it cause acute liver failure and it is not a chronic liver infection like hepatitis C.  You will feel quite ill during infection and you can be infectious for weeks before showing signs of illness.  Thus people can spread this easily.

That is all the vaccines routinely recommended for children from birth to kindergarten.  Check with your provider about the specific schedule.  And of course don’t forget the flu vaccine which is recommended to all people 6 months and older.  With 250 deaths last year, flu competes with the “big boys” like measles as a highly dangerous but preventable disease.

Next time – teenage vaccines.  Stay tuned!

Kathryn Lysinger, MD

I am a part-time pediatrician and full-time mom of 5 year old Jacob and 3 year old Lauren. After several years away in the “big city” my husband Jeri and I are excited to be back home in Montana. When not working I love to travel, cook and can’t wait to get the entire family back on the slopes in my hometown Red Lodge, MT.

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