Information Unlimited: All The Facts You Need To Avoid Heartache: NO.6 Immunisation

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The Independent Culture
BABIES ARE born with a certain natural immunity to illness which is passed on to them in the womb. After birth, breast-fed babies receive additional antibodies in their mothers milk which helps them fight infection. However this early immunity gradually wears off and babies have to depend on their own immune system to fight illness. Vaccination helps babies fight potentially fatal diseases and is most successful if it is carried out when children are young.

There is uniform agreement between the medical establishment and alternative practitioners that the existing vaccination programme should be adhered to. The Council of the Faculty of Homeopathy advises parents to have their children immunised with conventional vaccines as there is no scientific evidence to support other alternatives.

How does it work?

The child is given either a tiny prepared dose of the same bacteria or virus which causes the disease or tiny amounts of the chemicals that the disease produces. Vaccines are specially treated so they do not cause the disease. The child's immune system defends itself from this manageable dose of disease by developing its own antibodies. As a result, the body develops a natural defence system which protects it, should it ever come into contact with the disease.

Tips about immunisation

l Health visitors or GPs should say when your child needs to be immunised

l Most surgeries and health centres run special immunisation or baby clinics

l Each district in the country has an Immunisation Co-ordinator who can give you information and advice

l All immunisations are free

l Your doctor is obliged to inform you of any risks before vaccinating your child

l Your doctor should know your child's medical history beforehand, especially if they are prone to allergies or convulsions.

The immunisation programme

l At two, three and four months - three separate visits - your baby is given a DTP injection and a oral polio vaccination

l The DTP or Hib vaccine protects against diphtheria, tetanus/pertussis, whooping cough and haemophilus influenza type b (Hib). Diphtheria causes breathing problems, damages the heart and nervous system and in severe cases can kill. Tetanus is a potentially fatal disease that affects the muscles and lungs. Whooping cough causes long bouts of coughing, vomiting and choking and in severe cases it can kill. Hib can cause diseases such as blood poisoning, pneumonia and meningitis

l Polio protects against poliomyelitis which attacks the nervous system and can cause permanent muscle paralysis

l At 12-15 months your baby is given one measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) injection. The MMR vaccine protects against those three diseases. Measles is a infectious virus which causes high fever, rash and can kill in severe cases. The mumps virus can cause meningitis, swollen glands, deafness and swelling of the testicles and ovaries. Rubella, also known as German measles can be serious. If a woman is exposed to it during pregnancy, it can cause serious harm or be fatal for her unborn baby. There has been recent debate over the safety of the MMR vaccine but international research including a World Health Organisation review has concluded that it has an excellent safety record

l At three to five years your child receives a further MMR injection, one more diphtheria/ tetanus shot and one polio booster by mouth

l At 10-14 years your child may need a BCG injection to protect against tuberculosis (TB). The doctor will do a skin test first to see if they have already developed a natural immunity and if needed they will give an injection. TB affects the lungs, and also can affect the brain and the bones.

l At 13-18 years your child should have one last diphtheria/ tetanus injection and a polio booster. Because vaccination has been so successful, the incidence of many childhood diseases has declined dramatically. However, some people are more susceptible than others to protect them, it is important that everyone is vaccinated. Experts say the percentage of children receiving the MMR immunisation need only drop below 92 per cent for epidemics of all three diseases to reoccur.

For information contact: The Public Health Laboratory Service (0181- 200 6868) or visit its website on www.phls.co.uk

`Women Unlimited - The Directory for Life' is published by Penguin, priced pounds 9.99

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