In a school setting, communicable diseases spread quickly and easily. The close contact of the students naturally encourages the transmission of infections from person to person through the frequent interactions and exchanges between people, surfaces and equipment, which puts your teen at risk.
When the first day of school comes around, parents often forget vaccinations for their teenagers, but there are a specific set of vaccinations that can help keep them healthy.
Your teen may be living a fast-paced life -- studying, hanging out with friends, playing sports or participating in the school play -- but preventable diseases can slow your child down and take them off the field.
In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 38 million school days are lost each year because of the flu virus. While this number is staggering, cases of other preventable diseases such as meningitis, tetanus and pertussis can be much more serious, and sometimes even fatal.
Vaccines can prevent these diseases in your child, but they also have benefits that reach beyond your teen.
When the majority of a community is vaccinated and immune to a disease, members of the community who are at risk, such as those who have compromised immune systems, newborns and the elderly, are protected.
Chances for outbreaks of communicable diseases are significantly reduced, and the community as a whole is less susceptible to the rapid spread of infection.
This is called herd immunity. For example in Rock County, only 28 percent of our population has received the complete meningococcal vaccine, which protects against meningitis. For our community to reach herd immunity, we have to meet the benchmark of 90 percent to 95 percent vaccinated. Our low vaccination rates leave us at risk.
In addition, vaccinating your teen protects later generations, perhaps even your future grandchildren. If everyone would get vaccinated for a particular disease, we could completely eradicate it.
For hundreds of years, smallpox killed millions of people. But thanks to global immunization efforts in the 1970s, the infectious disease was wiped out. We no longer need to worry about smallpox due to the high rates of vaccinations in the past.
What are the vaccines recommended for teens?
Quadrivalent meningococcal conjugate vaccine
Athletes and sports teams are particularly susceptible to the spread of meningitis. Sharing drinks at games and practices is a major pathway to spread meningitis. Getting your teen vaccinated will help protect them and their teammates.
Boys and girls need to be protected from the infections and cancers caused by the human papillomavirus. The vaccine protects girls from most types of HPV that causes cervical cancer and protects boys and girls from genital warts. Protecting your teen from these infections and cancers now is extremely important, as it will protect them throughout their lives.
The Tdap vaccine prevents three serious diseases: Tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (more commonly called whooping cough). It’s a win-win-win.
Seasonal flu vaccine
Everyone should get a flu vaccine. The flu can be very serious, and with so many vaccine options it’s easy to find one that works for everybody.
Contact your health care provider or your local county health department to discuss what vaccinations are right for you and what your family needs to stay up-to-date.
Many students are returning to college or school and it is a good time to consider immunizations.
If you are planning to travel outside the U.S., you may not be protected from diseases found in specific areas.
An expert travel nurse from the health department can advise you on prevention measures to ensure you are protected.
Claire Hahn is an intern with the Rock County Health Department