Health experts discuss disease prevention

Editor’s note: this is the final of two stories highlighting the prevention of spreading communicable diseases, according to Wright State University health experts.

FAIRBORN — Wright State University health experts have recently discussed what it takes to prevent the spread of communicable diseases. Among the things individuals can do is washing their hands and accepting vaccines.

“A long time ago, I realized the most important thing we do for children for their lifelong health is to vaccinate them,” said Sara Guerrero-Duby, M.D., a pediatrician at Dayton Children’s Hospital and assistant professor of pediatrics at the Boonshoft School of Medicine.

Like Steven Burdette, a professor at the Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine, Guerreo-duby is aware of the challenges that health care providers face in treating communicable diseases in the U.S. Much of her personal efforts to furthering the fight have gone into making sure her pediatric patients get vaccinated.

Guerrero-Duby recently was honored with a 2019 Childhood Immunization Champion Award from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for her efforts to promote childhood immunizations. Only one person per state receives the award. No matter where she has worked or lived, including time as an Air Force physician, Guerrero-Duby pushes herself and others to take advantage of opportunities to vaccinate children—she knows how big a difference it can make.

“I was always kind of the vaccine queen in the office who was always pushing the missed opportunities. You don’t want to miss a chance to give a child a vaccine just because it wasn’t a scheduled well-check,” Guerrero-Duby said. “If they were behind, we vaccinated them, and the other doctors at work have become influenced by this passion. This award was just the nice, little icing on the cake for a lifelong emphasis on vaccinating children. I was very proud to get this.”

She encourages patients to consider vaccinations throughout their stages in life. She recommends different ones depending on their age, surroundings, or daily activities. She tailors recommendations to their needs the best that she can.

Guerrero-Duby advocates that adults get the flu vaccine. For grandparents who are around newborns without immunity to whooping cough, she recommends Tdap boosters. That shot covers tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis. For other adults who may have missed the window to get the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, Guerrero-Duby is recommending it for those up to the age of 45.

For others, such as the one for measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR), she believes it is very important for children. The MMR vaccine has gained prominence again in Ohio, as the first measles case in 2019 was identified near Canton, Ohio. Another significant vaccine is for pneumonia.

“When it comes to vaccines, which one of them is more important to get? All of them are important to me,” Guerrero-Duby said.

Whooping cough has raised its head around Cincinnati. That is due in part because the vaccine’s protection waxes and wanes over the years. Hepatitis A, which has been found in contaminated food and salad packaging, also has made a resurgence. Potentially, it is because a lot of people don’t worry about getting the Hepatitis A vaccine. It’s not mandatory for school, and many parents don’t have their children vaccinated.

Some of the blame also may lie with vaccines themselves, as they have been so successful at eradicating sickness that many people don’t see them as necessary.

“People have lost their knowledge about diseases. So vaccinating against them is less important. They don’t remember the historical impacts that their grandparents saw, who probably made sure they were vaccinated,” Guerrero-Duby said. “Lack of vaccination is probably a bigger issue of why you see a resurgence in any disease that is vaccine-preventable, rather than the germ itself has mutated.”

With a lack in vaccination, there is elevated risk for members of a community. That is because the community as a whole has a “herd immunity” that is strengthened or weakened depending on the numbers in its ranks who are vaccinated.

Education is a big component to solving the issue. Guerrero-Duby says that education comes through physicians and other health care providers. It also can come through schools, public service announcements, social media, and word of mouth.

Friends and family are influential in spreading knowledge about vaccines. For example, parents can tell other parents that they aren’t comfortable letting their kids play with others who have not been vaccinated.

Legislation also plays a role, as it requires vaccinations for young children.

“People may say that’s the law stepping on their right. Forever, since they’ve had vaccinations in schools in this country, we’ve required that kids be vaccinated. So I don’t think it’s a new importance to have children for school entry and daycare entry to be required to have vaccines,” Guerrero-Duby said. “I think having laws that encourage children to be vaccinated, unless they have a medical exemption, is appropriate.”

“The best thing we can do is prevent infection when it’s possible,” Burdette said.