During the passage from infancy to young adulthood, all children get sick at some point. For most American children, however, sickness is much less frequent, traumatic, and life threatening than it was just several decades ago. Research by a number of NIH institutes and centers is continuing to improve the outlook for childhood diseases every day.
When the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) was established at the National Institutes of Health 45 years ago, the world of children's health was a very different place than it is today. Since then, NICHD research has helped improve the health and well being of children at every age of development.
"Since the NICHD was founded," says NICHD Director Duane Alexander, M.D., "our research has contributed to the decline in infant mortality of more than 70 percent, the 93 percent reduction in the rate of mother-to-child transmission of the AIDS virus, the elimination of five major causes of mental retardation, successful treatments for infertility, an effective intervention for reducing a major cause of premature birth, and many other benefits."
Other NIH Institutes have also contributed to those positive results. They are also mirrored in the ongoing improvements in U.S. childhood infectious disease rates, and those for noncommunicable diseases in children. Today, parents and their children's doctors know far more about how to prevent and, when necessary, treat the entire range of childhood diseases.
Common Childhood Infections
Children encounter many infectious diseases, especially in the early months and years of life. Some upper respiratory viral or bacterial infections—such as colds, bronchiolitis, or croup—are quite common and difficult to avoid. The same can be said for ear infections, sinusitis, impetigo (skin infection), and conjunctivitis (pinkeye).
Beyond these childhood infections, however, there is one word that stands for much of the progress in battling children's
infectious diseases. That word is "vaccines." Vaccines have been incredibly effective in preventing childhood diseases and improving child mortality rates.
For example, vaccinating your child against diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis can be done in one dose. Diphtheria is a serious bacterial infection that leads to breathing problems. Pertussis is another name for whooping cough, and it hinders breathing and eating. Tetanus is a serious bacterial infection that can be fatal if not prevented or treated.
To Find Out More
Thanks to a vaccine, the United States is one of the only places in the world where polio is completely eradicated. One shot is all it takes to prevent this paralyzing condition. Getting a flu shot and a pneumonia vaccine are also recommended for infants six months or over. They are the most vulnerable when it comes to these diseases. A certain strain of pneumonia can lead to blood infections and meningitis, which is covered in the vaccine.
Similarly, the MMR vaccine protects against measles, mumps, and rubella, viral infections that cause serious symptoms. Measles and mumps often can lead to chronic conditions, such as deafness, brain damage, and reproductive problems. Rubella is also known as the German measles, and causes fever.
The vaccination chart that follows offers a simple overview of what childhood vaccines to take, when to take them, and why.