A form of immunity known as "community immunity" prevents the spread of diseases like rubeola (measles), polio, tetanus, varicella (chicken pox) among others to the general vaccinated community, but is compromised when people fail to vaccinate themselves and their children.
As of Feb. 25, Harris County reported four cases of measles, which is a highly contagious respiratory illness. The illness, which is typically preventable with vaccines, can be spread by direct contact, air or by sneezing and coughing. The virus remains contagious for two hours in the area or airspace of the infected person.
Dr. Robert Atmar, physician, Infectious Diseases, Ben Taub Hospital, and professor, infectious diseases, Baylor College of Medicine, says community immunity is vital in preventing infectious diseases from spreading.
"In general, diseases that are more transmissible, such as measles, require a higher level of the population to be immune to limit transmission than diseases that are less transmissible," Robert says.
The recent measles outbreak exemplifies the danger when persons don't receive vaccinations. According to Robert, community immunity is important to protect people such as cancer and HIV patients who are susceptible to certain illnesses because of compromised immune systems.
"If community immunity is high enough, the person who doesn't respond to the vaccine may still not get infected if they aren't exposed because community immunity has kept the infection from spreading in the population," Robert says.
Within the last couple of years, weariness has grown toward vaccines and the supposed harm they allegedly cause despite evidence disproving many anti-vaccination theories. Illnesses pose a serious threat to the health of the infected person and those around them, regardless of how the illnesses were acquired.
"The result is the occurrence of significant illnesses and the complications associated with those infections, including death for some individuals," Robert says.