Anti-Vaccine Issues: The Deadly Diseases That Could Return

women in a laboratory working on vaccines

These diseases could come back due to anti-vaccination enthusiasts. | Fox Photos/Getty Images

There’s a reason most of us went through childhood without being struck by a deadly illness —  we were vaccinated early on. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes most parents vaccinate their children — over 90% of kids between 19 and 35 months old are getting shots to protect from hepatitis B, measles, polio, and rubella. This is the first step in ridding these potentially fatal illnesses, but the other 10% who aren’t getting protected are putting everyone, including themselves, at risk.

You might think as long as you choose to vaccinate yourself and your children, then you don’t have much to worry about. The Brookings Institute explains this type of thinking is problematic because “herd immunity” is what protects an entire population from disease, and it can only happen if 90 to 95% of people are vaccinated. When there are enough people protected, the disease can no longer survive. This is particularly important because there are certain people, such as children undergoing chemotherapy, who cannot be vaccinated. Without this layer of protection, they’re really at risk.

So, why would anyone refuse to vaccinate their children? Brookings says the anti-vaccine movement began when a 1998 study from Dr. Andrew Wakefield stated the vaccine for measles, mumps, and rubella had a direct link to autism. While this study induced nationwide panic, there’s really nothing to fear — the study has since been debunked, Wakefield has had his license revoked, and further studies show no connection between vaccines and autism.

Vaccination is a personal choice, but keep these diseases in mind. Refusing to comply with your doctor’s recommendations could bring them back.

1. Polio

young children eating at McDonald's

Polio could come back thanks to anti-vaccine enthusiasts. | Kristian Dowling/Getty Images

While polio was well on its way toward eradication, the threat is again on the rise thanks to anti-vaxxers. In 2014, The World Health Organization declared polio a public health emergency that needed to be aggressively fought. Several countries that were polio-free were infected again.

It’s still unlikely you’ll get polio — in 2015, there were only 74 reported cases worldwide, says the WHO. But the organization also says failure to eradicate polio could lead to more than 200,000 new cases of the disease cropping up every year within 10 years.

Next: Here are the warning signs of polio to watch for. 

Polio: What to watch for

a doctor holding a tablet

Check for these signs of polio. | iStock.com

For those who have never seen the effects of polio firsthand, it’s important to note how devastating this disease can be. Medical News Today explains it’s a viral infection that’s easily passed from one person to the next, and it can lead to paralysis, breathing problems, or death. Symptoms similar to the flu — fever, sore throat, headache, and muscle tenderness — are all common. Most people are asymptomatic, though.

The majority of people who get polio have weakened immune systems, are very young, or pregnant, but anyone who hasn’t been vaccinated can contract it.

Next: This next disease is highly contagious.

2. Hepatitis B

Hepatitis written on a clipboard

Getting vaccinated for hepatitis B is highly advised. | iStock.com/Zerbor

It’s recommended all infants get vaccinated for this disease, as it’s highly contagious and can cause serious damage to the liver. Vaccines.gov says the younger the person is when infected, the higher the chances of the infection leading to chronic liver disease. This means early vaccination is critically important.

The WHO reminds us there’s been a vaccination available for hepatitis B since 1982, and it’s 95% effective. While less than than 1% of people in Western Europe and North America have the chronic infection, you can expect this number to rise if vaccination tapers off.

Next: Here’s what you need to know about the symptoms of hepatitis B. 

Hepatitis B: What to watch for

close-up of vaccination phials

Many people don’t experience any symptoms from chronic hepatitis B. | iStock.com/the_guitar_mann

This disease is highly contagious and transmitted by contacting the bodily fluids of an infected person, Vaccines.gov says. This means it can be spread during birth, from having sex with an infected partner, from sharing needles, or from coming into direct contact with blood or open wounds. For those who develop chronic hepatitis B, symptoms are few and far between. Most people do not feel sick, which can increase the risk of them spreading the disease to others. Those with the acute viral infection typically experience flu-like symptoms that appear within three months of exposure.

If you haven’t yet been vaccinated, there’s still some positive news — you’re more likely to develop the acute version of this disease as an adult, which is much less severe. Still, you should ask your health care provider about getting vaccinated, no matter how old you are.

Next: This disease still causes many deaths worldwide. 

3. Tuberculosis

woman coughing

Tuberculosis is one of the top diseases that leads to death. | iStock.com

You’ve probably never considered the risk of contracting tuberculosis, but the WHO reports it’s still one of the top 10 causes of death in the world. In 2015, The Huffington Post says, there were 9,563 reported cases, which is 142 more cases than in 2014. And if you think these numbers only rose in a couple of states, guess again — 29 states and the District of Columbia saw an increase.

David Bryden, TB advocacy officer at the nonprofit movement Results, tells The Huffington Post this spike could be just the start of a bigger problem: This disease has the potential to be resistant to drugs. Even curable cases can take six to nine months to treat.

The TB vaccine is typically only given to babies in countries where there’s a high threat of this disease, says Vaccines.gov. Because there’s a low risk of infection in the U.S., most babies here don’t receive the shot. If the anti-vaccine movement were to take off in other countries, however, this could greatly increase the incidences of TB in America.

Next: Here’s what you need to know about the TB vaccine. 

Tuberculosis: About the vaccine

doctor holding a syringe

The vaccine is highly effective for children, but not so much for adults. | iStock.com

This question may be on your mind: If there’s been a steady increase in tuberculosis cases, why don’t we make the vaccine easily accessible to all babies? The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia explains the vaccine is really only intended for those who aren’t able to take antibiotics

It’s important to note that there are only two countries that have never had a routine vaccination for TB — the U.S. and the Netherlands. There aren’t really any serious risks associated with getting the vaccine, though, so receiving it as a baby is a better-safe-than-sorry approach with no real drawbacks.

Next: There have been more and more cases of this disease cropping up. 

4. Mumps

doctor giving a student a mumps vaccine after an outbreak

The number of mumps cases in the U.S. has spiked. | Mark Kegans/Getty Images

Most of us receive a mumps vaccine as a child and never have to worry about contracting the disease. More recently, however, the number of mumps cases in the U.S. has spiked, leading many to believe the anti-vaccine movement is to blame. Forbes says mumps was well on its way out of the states 20 years ago. But in 2016, there were 4,258 reported cases of the mumps in the U.S., which is roughly four times the number from the year before. This is the highest number of cases since the spike in 2006, which should be alarming considering how accessible the vaccine is.

Next: Here are the signs of mumps. 

Mumps: What to watch for

woman massaging her painful neck

Mumps can cause swollen and painful salivary glands. | iStock.com/SIphotography

There’s no specific treatment for the mumps, and it has the potential to cause severe problems, says the Mayo Clinic. This viral infection causes the salivary glands to become swollen and painful, causing puffy cheeks. It’s also common to experience fever, headaches, muscle aches, loss of appetite, and pain when chewing or swallowing. Coming into contact with infected saliva — even if just breathing in saliva droplets from an infected person who sneezed near you — can give you the disease.

It can take weeks to see any symptoms, which means you have the ability to infect many people around you. And antibiotics will do you no good, so the best thing you can do is rest, stay as comfortable as possible, and watch for signs of inflammation in other areas of your body.

Next: There was an outbreak of this disease at Disneyland. 

5. Measles

Disneyland with Minnie Mouse and Mickey Mouse

There was a measles outbreak in Disneyland in 2015. | Mark Ashman/Disney via Getty Images

Some of these diseases are more uncomfortable than they are deadly, but measles falls into the fatal category. According to Medical Daily, measles affects more than 20 million people every year. Thanks to the vaccine in the ’60s, outbreaks have become a thing of the past for citizens of the states. There have been some scares, though.

In 2016, Arizona saw a serious outbreak, which many attributed to an unvaccinated immigrant. If you haven’t received the measles vaccine, you have a 90% chance of contracting it if you’re anywhere near an infected person because of how easily it spreads. Just something to keep in mind.

Next: You should know the signs of measles. 

Measles: What to watch for

sick man blowing his nose in bed

You’ll develop a noticeable rash with measles. | iStock.com

It’s important to remember just how serious measles can be. Medical News Today reminds us an outbreak of this disease ravaged Cuba and killed two-thirds of the population in 1952. We certainly have better medicine than we did then, but it’s still very possible to die from measles. It can take between nine and 11 days to see symptoms, but after this window, you can expect a runny nose, a dry cough, conjunctivitis, fever, body aches, and a spotty rash.

There’s no specific treatment for measles, but you can expect a slow and uncomfortable recovery. You can have severe complications, such as vomiting, hepatitis, or heart problems.

Next: This disease poses particular danger to children. 

6. Whooping cough

childern sitting together at a birthday party

Whooping cough can be dangerous if children contract it. | iStock.com

The first whooping cough vaccine was introduced in the ’30s and was widely used in the ’40s, says the Immunization Action Coalition. Lately, however, whooping cough has steadily been on the rise. The CDC says there were 32,971 reported cases of whooping cough in the U.S. in 2014, which was a 15% increase from the prior year.

Furthermore, a review from The JAMA Network found many outbreaks were due to people not being fully vaccinated. It’s also important to note some people who were vaccinated still contracted the disease, which indicates efficacy may wane over time.

Next: There’s a whooping cough vaccine, but it isn’t perfect. 

Whooping cough: Vaccine concerns

woman sick at work

Make sure to get your whooping cough vaccination if you haven’t already. | iStock.com

Some people may think there’s no point in getting the whooping cough vaccine if its found to be less effective over time, but ABC News says countries are already starting to address this issue. Canada, Germany, France, and Australia offer a booster shot for adolescents, and the U.S. is looking into offering the same. There’s already a booster shot given to those between the ages of 10 and 18 for protection against tetanus and diphtheria. The idea is a whooping cough component could be added as well.

If you’re an adult, you’ve had the vaccine, and you still end up getting whooping cough, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is you may not even know you have it. Your symptoms are likely to resemble nothing more than a bad cough and will probably go undiagnosed, even if you do visit a physician. The bad news? You could spread whooping cough to infants, which can be potentially fatal.

Next: You don’t hear about this disease too much anymore, but it could come back. 

7. Rubella

legs of elegant woman going on business trip

You probably won’t get rubella if you’re living in the U.S., but be careful if you’re traveling to a high-risk area. | iStock.com/YakobchukOlena

If you haven’t heard of rubella before, don’t be too surprised. After all, no more than 10 cases per year have appeared in U.S. since 2004, says the CDC. We can give a big thanks to the rubella vaccine for these low numbers. Once the vaccine became available in 1969, the number of reported cases steadily decreased.

Don’t think you’re totally safe just because you live in the U.S., though — this disease has huge potential to return if we stop vaccinating. If a pregnant woman becomes infected with rubella, she has a 90% chance of giving birth to a baby with congenital rubella syndrome. As of now, there are more than 100,000 babies born each year with this disease, which can lead to severe birth defects. Do your part and protect yourself and your children.

Next: Here are the symptoms of rubella to watch for. 

Rubella: What to watch for

Pregnant woman holding belly

Make sure you have the rubella vaccine if you love to travel and plan on becoming pregnant. | iStock.com/tamaravidmar

Rubella, also known as German measles, is a highly contagious virus that often has very few or mild symptoms, says Healthline. Within a few weeks of contracting the virus, you may have a mild fever, swollen lymph nodes, a pink or red rash that begins on the face, and reddened eyes. These signs may not seem too serious, but complications can ensue. In serious cases, rubella can cause brain swelling, so make sure you take the diagnosis seriously.

Though U.S. citizens are generally safe, if you’re pregnant and traveling, make sure you know if you’re entering a high-risk area. Not only can this condition cause stillbirth or lead to a miscarriage, but babies can also experience delayed growth, heart defects, deafness, and intellectual disabilities. If you’re planning to become pregnant and you haven’t been vaccinated, get the shot at least 28 days before you attempt to conceive.

Read more: 9 Diseases That Can Kill You in Just One Day