It is always better to prevent a disease than to treat it after it occurs. Diseases that used to be common in this country and around the world--including polio, measles, pertussis (whooping cough), rubella (German measles), and more--can now be prevented by vaccination. Immunizations have made it possible to help eradicate or eliminate diseases such as smallpox, as well as has prevented countless cases of disease and saved millions of lives over the past century.
Our immune system helps protect us from disease or illness. The immune system is composed of cells, glands, organs, and fluids located throughout the body. The immune system recognizes germs that enter the body as "foreign invaders” (called antigens) and produces proteins called antibodies to fight them. The first time a person is infected with a specific antigen (say measles virus), the immune system produces antibodies designed to fight it. This takes time . . . usually the immune system can’t work fast enough to prevent the antigen from causing disease, so the person still gets sick. However, the immune system “remembers” that antigen. If it ever enters the body again, even after many years, the immune system can produce antibodies fast enough to keep it from causing disease a second time. This protection is called immunity.
Vaccines also help provide immunity against diseases. Vaccines contain the same antigens (or parts of antigens) that cause diseases. For example, measles vaccine contains measles virus. But the antigens in vaccines are either killed, or weakened to the point that they don’t cause disease. However, they are strong enough to make the immune system produce antibodies that lead to immunity. This allows for vaccines to be used before a person is first exposed to a disease, which is considered safer than being exposed to disease without vaccination--particularly for children whose immune systems are not as developed. A child gets protection without having to get sick. Through vaccination, people can develop immunity without suffering from the actual diseases that vaccines prevent.
Both children and adults are recommended to receive certain immunizations to protect themselves from illness and disease. The vaccine recommendations vary according to age and risk factors. It's always best to consult with your medical provider to determine which vaccines are appropriate for you. There are many places locally that offer to provide vaccinations, including health care clinics, hospitals, or local health departments. Feel free to contact Bayfield County Health Department at (715)373-6109 to speak with a public health nurse regarding any immunization questions you may have.