Vaccine-Preventable Diseases

The City of Milwaukee Health Department Immunization Program provides immunizations for the following vaccine-preventable diseases:

  • Measles are the most serious of the vaccine-preventable diseases. Three out of 10 victims develop pneumonia. Encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) occurs one in every 1,000 cases, and may cause permanent brain damage or death.

  • Mumps can result in hearing loss and inflamed testicles. Sterility is possible, but rare.

  • Rubella is usually mild in children, but is dangerous for a woman during her first three months of pregnancy. This disease can cause birth defects such as glaucoma, cataracts, deafness, and brain damage (Congenital Rubella Syndrome). All women of childbearing age should receive the rubella vaccine, unless they have had a test which shows they are protected.

  • Diphtheria which begins as a severe sore throat, may progress to suffocation or heart failure. Although rare today, it can be fatal for one out of 10 who gets it.

  • Tetanus can result from any break in the skin. Even small scratches or burns provide entry for the tetanus bacteria, but deep puncture wounds have an even higher risk of disease. Approximately 30 percent of reported cases are fatal.
  • Pertussis (Whooping Cough) is marked by repeated violent coughing spells. Over 70 percent of deaths from pertussis are among children less than one year old.

  • Hib Disease (Haemophilus influenzae b) is a bacterial infection that begins like the common cold. It may lead to other complications including meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain), pneumonia, and infections of the blood, joints, throat, and covering the heart.

  • Hepatitis A is disease of the liver caused by the hepatitis A virus (HAV). HAV is found in the stool/ feces of persons with HAV. This disease can be easily spread through close personal contact. It is typically spread by poor hygiene and sanitation.  Food and water can be contaminated with HAV.

  • Hepatitis B is spread through the contact with an infected person's blood, saliva, semen, or vaginal secretions. People who are infected with hepatitis B virus, but who show no signs of illness, are called carriers. A pregnant woman who has hepatitis B, or is a carrier, can infect her baby at birth unless the baby is immunized. Cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) or cancers may develop later in life.

  • Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is a common virus that has more than 100 types. Some types lead to cancer while others do not.  It is estimated that at least 50% of sexually active people will catch HPV during their lifetime. Currently, there is only one vaccine that may help guard against cervical cancer and genital warts and can be given to girls as young as 9 years of age. It is given in 3 doses within 6 months.

  • Influenza (Flu) is a common respiratory virus that affects children and adults.  Each flu season in the United States, unfortunately there are 36,000 deaths from influenza.  Some of these deaths are the very young ("pediatric," and the very old, or persons with other underlying illnesses). Flu can be prevented by vaccinations and also by handwashing and covering coughs.

  • Meningococcal (Meningitis) Disease is a rare but serious bacterial infection of the lining of the spinal cord and the brain, or the blood stream. It may result in brain damage, hearing loss, learning disabitity or death. First year college students are at modestly increased risk of meningococcal disease, particularly those who live in the dormitories. Adolescents and young adults account for approximately one-third of all cases of meningitis in the United States.

  • Pneumococcal Disease is a leading cause of bacterial meningitis among children less than 1 year in the United States. It is most serious in children under 2 years and the elderly. The disease can also result in blood and middle ear infections and pneumonia.

  • Polio is a disease caused by a virus. It enters a child's (or adult's) body through the mouth. Sometimes it does not cause serious illness. But sometimes it causes paralysis (the inability to move arms and/or legs). It can kill people who get it, usually by paralyzing the muscles that help them breathe. Polio used to be very common in the United States. It paralyzed and killed thousands of people a year before the vaccine was developed.

  • Rotavirus is a virus that often affects babies and young children. The majority of all children in this country are infected with this virus before their 5th birthday. Symptoms include severe diarrhea accompanied by vomiting and fever.

  • Varicella (Chickenpox) is a highly contagious disease that most children contract during their first few years of life. Adolescents, adults, and persons with weakened immune systems may have a more serious reaction to the disease and are at higher risk for complications such as pneumonia, and encephalitis.

Vaccine Infosheets from the CDC

Vaccine-Preventable Disease Facts

Vaccines were developed to protect people from serious and sometimes fatal diseases. Vaccines are important because they decrease the burden of illness among children and adults. Healthy children miss less days of school and parents miss less days of work to care for ill children. Treatment and rehab of children and adults that contract vaccine preventable diseases is costly.For example, meningococcal disease is less common than most vaccine preventable diseases but costs on a per case basis range from $600,000 to 1.8 million (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention CDC, 2000).  There are approximately 2,600 cases of meningococcal disease in the US each year.

Some people may feel that it is not important to immunize children.  Concerned parents/ guardians may have false information about immunizations therefore they do not immunize their children.

Most common misconceptions about immunizations (source CDC, ABC's of Childhood Vaccinations, 2005):

1) False:  All vaccines have dangerous additives such as Thimerosal (ethylmercury).


  • Thimerosal is a preservative that contains a form of mercury (ethylmercury) and was used in very small amounts for over 50 years as a preservative in some vaccines.

  • Today, with the exception of some flu vaccines, none of the vaccines used in the U.S. to protect preschool-aged children against 12 vaccine preventable diseases contain thimerosal as a preservative.

  • Even though there is no convincing evidence of any harm, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) issued a statement saying thimerosal should be removed from vaccines as soon as possible (June, 2000).

2) False:  There is a rumored link between the MMR vaccine (combination for measles, mumps, and rubella) and autism.


Some parents and others have expressed concern about a possible link between the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine and the development of autism in children because MMR vaccine is first given at age 12 to 15 months, and the first signs of autism (e.g. poor social interaction and speech, repetitive behaviors) often appear between 12 to 18 months of age.  '

Independent Studies Have Found No Link Between Autism and MMR.

3) False:  The Hepatitis B vaccine is not necessary for children. 


Hepatitis B is a disease of the liver that can be transmitted:

  • Through contact with the blood or other bodily fluids of an infected person.

  • Through unprotected sexual contact with an infected person.

  • During birth, when the virus passes from an infected mother to her baby.

Because of common scrapes, falls, and lack of personal hygiene, children (particularly in childcare settings) are more exposed to bodily fluids than parents/ guardians may think.

  • Before the vaccine was introduced, 20,000 children under age 10 became infected each year.

  • In 1999, only 89 cases of acute Hepatitis B were reported in children under 10 years old.

  • Children, teenagers, and adults who get hepatitis B can have chronic health problems.

  • Infants who catch Hepatitis B from their mothers at birth are at a greater risk to suffer a premature death from liver cancer or liver failure later in life.  

  • Vaccinating early against Hepatitis B assures children's immunity when they are the most vulnerable to the worst complications of hepatitis B and before they enter the high risk adolescent years

4) False:  Pneumococcal conjugate is a new vaccine to protect against meningitis.


Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine was licensed in 2000.  Development of the vaccine started back in 1911.

5) False:  Varicella vaccines (chickenpox) are dangerous.


Varicella vaccine is very safe. About 20% of vaccine recipients will have minor injection site complaints, such as pain, swelling, or redness. Less than 5% of recipients develop a localized or generalized varicella-like rash 5 to 26 days after vaccination. These rashes have an average of 2 to 5 lesions, and may be maculopapular rather than vesicular. Fever following varicella vaccine is uncommon.

More info

Please visit the following website for case reports, personal testimonies, newspaper and journal articles about people who have suffered or died from vaccine-preventable diseases:

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