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Playground safety and health: The importance of vaccinations

Kids need ample room for outdoor activity and exercise. A playground can offer a safe place for youngsters to run, jump, skip, hop, and climb. While this equipment is beneficial for developing and maintaining gross motor skills, there are safety and health factors to consider when your children spend time on playgrounds. As children spend time with other youngsters, they may receive exposure to germs and bacteria. Vaccinations help protect children from some serious illnesses.

Vaccination Overview

Some medications treat illnesses after you contract them, helping your body fight off the invading bacteria that are causing symptoms. Although vaccinations are a type of medication, this variety of medicine is designed to prevent illness from beginning in the first place. The body has an immune system designed to maintain health and fight disease. An army of white blood cells typically attacks invading bacteria with a forceful vengeance to keep the body strong and healthy. After subduing bacteria, the body even has the capacity to remember the invading bacteria, which prevents another bout of the same illness from occurring again in the future.

With vaccines, a weakened form of a virus is injected into a patient. With the introduction of these bacteria, the white blood cells respond in similar fashion to the way they respond to natural illnesses. The fact that the bacteria are in a weakened state does not detract from the effectiveness of the white blood cells, as they work to stave off the illness. The end result is that the body receives the same type of immunity that it would have after a natural illness, but the patient did not have to endure a dangerous virus.

Vaccines and Immunization

A number of benefits are associated with vaccinations. The main benefit of vaccines is the immunity they give against serious and potentially debilitating illnesses. While this immunity translates to protection for individual people, it also includes a "herd immunity." Herd immunity involves widespread immunity that occurs within a community when vaccination numbers are high. The more people who receive vaccinations, the fewer people will become sick with specific illnesses. Herd immunity can be beneficial for keeping people healthy who cannot receive vaccinations, such as young infants or people experiencing other chronic illnesses. When a community has a high vaccination rate, you may feel safer about having your child play on a neighborhood playground, because the prevalence of serious illnesses will be lower.

Some playground risks involve illnesses that can be prevented by vaccinations. Hepatitis B is a liver infection that leads to liver damage. Any exposure to blood from a person with Hepatitis B could spread the disease. Even a simple scrape or cut occurring while playing could involve the unintentional spread of this illness between children if one child isn't vaccinated. Another potential risk involves tetanus. Tetanus spores could be present in dirt or dust. If a puncture, scrape, or cut occurs, it's possible that tetanus spores could enter the body. Once there, these toxins could cause a painful illness that involves muscle contractions and spasms. Both Hepatitis B and Tetanus are preventable with immunizations.

Some health risks are involved with immunizations; however, the benefits typically outweigh the risks. Some people experience localized soreness at the injection site, but this discomfort dissipates quickly. A mild fever may also occur, but it does not last more than about 24 hours. Rarely, a person could experience a severe reaction from a vaccination, but these incidences happen infrequently.

Current Vaccination Issues

In early 2015, over 100 cases of measles were confirmed in 17 different states. This outbreak was traced to an amusement park in California. Officials surmise that an international traveler visited the park while sick with the disease, exposing other visitors to the bacteria. Most of the people who contracted measles during this outbreak were unvaccinated. With the virility of the measles bacteria, approximately 90 percent of the people exposed to it without having immunity will catch it. After receiving two doses of the vaccine, it provides about 97 percent protection from the bacteria.

When people opt to avoid immunizations, this disrupts the herd immunity that can provide safety for large groups of people. Each disease has a different contagiousness. With an illness, such as measles, that is highly contagious, achieving herd immunity requires an immunization level of at least 90 to 95 percent, or an entire community could be at risk. When a community has a strong immunity level, an outbreak of a disease isn't likely to affect the people in the community as much, because the illness can't take hold among the people.