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Children's Vaccines Health Center

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Vaccines Make Day Care Healthier

Immunization Helps Reduce Infections Among Kids in Day Care
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Sept. 20, 2007 (Chicago) -- Day care centers -- often thought of as giant petri dishes of pathogens -- are safer than ever, thanks to improved vaccination of toddlers against a host of common childhood diseases, experts say.

"Are day care centers safer in the era of vaccines? Absolutely they are," says Larry Pickering, MD, a specialist in infectious diseases at the CDC in Atlanta.

About 11 to 12 million kids go to child care centers nationwide each day, he says. There, the children are exposed to numerous illnesses as they mix and mingle, trading bugs and bringing them home.

The fact that the youngsters' immune systems are not fully developed, that they often have poor hand washing habits, and that many day care centers themselves are not hygienic doesn't help matters, he adds.

While kids in care are still more likely to get sick than those who play at home, "I'd be a lot more comfortable having my child in care than in the pre-vaccine era," Pickering tells WebMD.

At a meeting of the American Society for Microbiology this week, Pickering and other experts discussed the impact that vaccines against meningitis, chickenpox, the flu, and other disorders have had on the health of day care's young charges -- and that of their families as well.


Before the varicella vaccine was introduced, chickenpox was a rite of passage, with 4 million cases each year, says the CDC's Jane Seward, MD.

And it wasn't always harmless: about 11,500 kids were hospitalized each year, and 100 to 150 died, she says.

Since the U.S. started a varicella surveillance program in 1995, the number of cases overall in the U.S. has dropped 90%.

Among the under-5 set, cases dropped by up to 95%, she tells WebMD.

"Varicella has virtually disappeared from day care centers," Seward says.

There has also been an 80% decrease in cases among infants too young to be immunized who typically catch the disease from their siblings, she says.

(What have your experiences with day care been like? Share with us on WebMD's Parenting message boards: 3-6 Months, 6-9 Months, 9-12 Months, and 2-Year-Olds.)

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