Hurricanes are a seasonal threat. Disease is a constant.

When taking yourself and your family for flu shots, ask about other recommended vaccines -- the best defense against serious diseases.

Dr. Linda Bell, director of the Bureau of Communicable Disease Prevention and Control and state epidemiologist at the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, points out that vaccinations, particularly against diseases such as polio and diphtheria, are great success stories in public health during the 20th century.

But that success does not mean the diseases that vaccines help prevent are no longer a threat.

“Although we have seen significant reductions in – even the elimination of – certain diseases, there were nearly 7,800 reports of vaccine-preventable diseases in South Carolina in 2016,” Bell writes.

Not surprisingly, of 238 disease outbreak investigations by DHEC in 2016, 29 percent were related to influenza.

Many of the flu cases occurred in schools and nursing homes, which serve people who often have complications from the flu. The age groups with the highest rates of hospitalizations for flu included children ages 4 and younger and individuals older than 65. Nintey-four deaths from the flu have been reported in South Carolina during the 2016-17 flu season.

DHEC also continues to see cases of whooping cough, bacterial meningitis, hepatitis A and B and other vaccine-preventable diseases, and these will increase unless more people are vaccinated.

Unfortunately, according to Bell, the number of people receiving vaccines in South Carolina and the United States has declined in recent years.

Though vaccines protect entire populations from multiple diseases, questions remain.

Bell offers answers:

• Are vaccines effective? While no vaccine offers 100 percent protection, they are extremely effective.

How well a vaccine prevents illness varies based on the type of vaccine and the individual’s health status. For example, the flu vaccine does not protect the elderly as well as it protects young people. However, studies suggest that elderly people vaccinated against the flu have less severe disease, are less likely to be hospitalized and are less likely to die from the flu.

While there can be adverse effects from vaccines, severe adverse events are rare and occur far less often than complications from vaccine-preventable diseases. Although questions have been raised about whether there is a relationship between autism and vaccines, research does not show any such link.

• Do vaccines have risks? Vaccines — like all medications — have potential risks that must be weighed against the benefits. The risks are quite low and are comparable to those associated with prescription and over-the-counter medication. The benefits are significant in protecting the public health and in cost-savings. Ask your health care provider about what vaccines are best for you as well as potential risks based on your health factors.

• What impact does a decline in vaccinations have?

In July the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics published a study showing that a 5 percent decrease in the number of children ages 2 to 11 vaccinated against the measles in the United States could triple the number of measles cases in that group and significantly increase the cost of controlling disease outbreaks. Of great concern is that the article reveals that several regions in the country are just above the level of vaccine coverage needed to prevent measles outbreaks. If vaccination levels drop further, there could be a sharp rise in measles cases, one of the most highly contagious diseases known.

“We continue to see preventable illness, hospitalizations and, unfortunately, deaths in South Carolina from influenza, whooping cough, meningitis, hepatitis B and other vaccine-preventable diseases. Every year U.S. travelers are infected after being exposed to diseases while abroad. Infected people can begin spreading a disease before they show symptoms. Numerous outbreaks have occurred in communities with low vaccination rates,” Bell says.

The message should be loud and clear: As you can be protected against dangerous diseases such as flu, measles and pneumonia, it makes no sense not to be vaccinated. Immunization isn’t just for kids.

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