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U.S. Adults Dying of Preventable Diseases

Vaccine-Preventable Diseases Kill More Americans Than Car Wrecks
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

July 24, 2009 – Diseases easily preventable by adult vaccines kill more Americans each year than car wrecks, breast cancer, or AIDS.

Yet relatively few in the U.S. know much about these diseases -- and far too few adults get vaccinated, find surveys by the CDC and the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID).

"It may surprise you to learn that over 50,000 adults die each year of diseases that are potentially vaccine preventable," NFID president-elect William Schaffner, MD, said at a news conference held to announce the survey results.

"We have a chronic disease epidemic in the U.S. It is taxing our families and taxing our economy," the CDC's Anne Schuchat, MD, said at the news conference. "We have a need for culture change in America. We worry about things when they are really bad rather than focusing on prevention, which can keep us out of the hospital and keep our families thriving."

What are these diseases? Don't be surprised if you don't know. The surveys show that fewer than half of Americans are familiar with this list:

  • Flu. Most Americans don't know that flu is the biggest killer of all vaccine-preventable diseases.
  • Hepatitis B. Only 40% of Americans say they know about this major cause of liver cancer and liver disease.
  • Pneumococcal disease kills 4,500 U.S. adults each year -- yet only 20% of Americans know much about it.
  • Meningitis. It's a killer, but only 36% of Americans know this.
  • Shingles. Fewer than half of young adults know that chickenpox virus hangs around to cause shingles later in life.
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) causes cervical cancer and genital warts. There are more than 6 million new infections each year, yet only 30% of Americans say they're very aware of the problem.
  • Tetanus. Fewer than half of young Americans know tetanus causes lockjaw.
  • Pertussis or whooping cough. Only 37% of young people, and only 67% of older people, know that there's a vaccine to prevent this disease, which can be serious in adults but life threatening when adults transmit the disease to young children.

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