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How Vaccinations Protect Us

As one of the greatest accomplishments of modern western medicine and the most effective method of preventing infectious diseases​, vaccinations played a major role in eradicating smallpox worldwide and in restriction of polio, measles, and tetanus from most of the world. With all the misinformation surrounding the anti-vaccine movements today, it’s certainly worth raising awareness about how vaccines actually grant us immunity against certain pathogens.

Our immune system is responsible for fighting any harmful viruses or bacteria that may enter our bodies. Most of the time it keeps them from entering or finds and destroys them once they have entered the body. However, once in a while, an external pathogen may overwhelm the immune system and hinder its ability to fight back by producing antibodies.

A vaccine introduces a safe version of the pathogen into the body, ensuring that the immune system learns to recognize them as hostile invaders and produces antibodies if the live pathogen enters the body in the future. This helps in inducing a faster and more reliable response from the immune system against the pathogen.

The safe version of pathogen used can be:
– A sugar or protein molecule found on the surface which is unique to the pathogen.
– A dead or inactivated form of a pathogen, usually killed with heat or chemicals
– A toxoid or a harmful chemical or toxin made by the pathogen
– A weakened form of the pathogen

Vaccination works on both individual and communal levels. In order to eradicate an epidemic, vaccines rely on ​herd immunity ​ or​ community immunity ​ . This is what happens when a considerable portion of the community gets immunity against a pathogen, so the pathogen will die out without eligible hosts. When this happens, all the members of that community are protected even if some are unvaccinated. This is a critical factor, as there’s always a portion of the community that cannot be vaccinated, such as infants, young children, those with severe allergies, pregnant women, older people and people with compromised immune systems.

However, if a significant amount of people within a community forego vaccination, this breaks the herd immunity. This is evident in the case of once almost-eradicated measles and whooping cough epidemics which are now prevalent within the US, following the anti-vaccination movements claiming that vaccines cause autism in children, urging parents not to vaccinate their kids. Extensive research has proven that there is no substantial evidence to support these claims. However, this has not hindered the anti-vaccination movements from growing, specifically within the recent years’ rise in social media use.

The researchers and experts around the globe agree on the importance of vaccinating the children. As the American Academy of Pediatrics states “most childhood vaccines are 90%-99% effective in preventing disease.” According to Shot@Life, a United Nations Foundation partner organization, vaccines save 2.5 million children from preventable diseases every year.

Additionally, the safety of vaccines are stated by all the major medical organizations including CDC, Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Institute of Medicine (IOM), American Medical Association (AMA), American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), UNICEF, US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and the World Health Organization (WHO).  The effects of vaccination reach even the unborn generations. Vaccinated mothers protect their unborn children from viruses that could potentially cause birth defects, and vaccinated communities can help eradicate diseases for future generations. Considering all the facts, it is a wise choice when you decide vaccines are not your enemies. They are the friends lending a hand to humanity to rise above pandemics.

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Viral Infections

Viral infections kill nearly 50,000 people worldwide each day unless an epidemic is afoot. Usually, viral infections are non-fatal, but over the years a number of highly fatal viruses such as H1N1 or influenza, COVID19, Rabies, and Ebola have taken the lives of people around the world. Most common viral infections like common cold and different types of flu does not have dire effects on the person, but other infections like smallpox, measles, mumps, rubella, chickenpox, shingles, herpes, hepatitis, polio, HIV, SARS, dengue fever, Zika, and Epstein-Barr, might cause disfiguring or lead to death if not properly treated. However, not all viruses cause harm to us. Just like friendly bacteria, friendly viruses in our bodies help protect us from dangerous bacteria. 

Viruses are microscopic organisms that exist everywhere on earth, within every ecosystem. The ultimate purpose of a virus is to reproduce. However, they are parasitic organisms that cannot survive or reproduce without a host. For this, a virus may infect humans, animals, plants and even other microorganisms like fungi or bacteria. One type of virus may infect one species but pose no threat to another. Viruses transmit from person to person, and from mother to child during pregnancy or delivery. They also spread through touch, saliva, coughing, sneezing sexual contact, contaminated food or water, and even by insects that carry them. Some can even survive on an object for a brief period.

When a virus infects a host, it inserts a copy of its genetic material into the host cell and takes over the functions of the host cell. Then the host cell begins reproducing with more viral protein and genetic material instead of the usual cellular products. After a period of time called the​ incubation period ​ , the host is affected and starts to show symptoms. However, the symptoms may vary from fatal to none at all. When the host’s immune system recognizes the virus as an intruder, it responds by producing T-cells and antibodies that can bind to viruses and make them non-infectious by breaking down the genetic material in a process called ​RNA interference ​ . Most fatal viruses are neurotropic, which means that they weaken the immune response by infecting the nerve cells directly, affecting the structure of the central nervous system (CNS) with delayed and progressive effects that can be severe.

Treatments for viral diseases do not use cures, rather vaccines to prevent their further spreading or antiviral drugs to treat them. Sometimes, the only solution that can be provided is to relieve the symptoms. 

The development of antiviral drugs has been mostly in response to the AIDS pandemic. These do not destroy the virus but slow down the progress of the disease by inhibiting their growth. Antivirals are used to treat the herpes simplex virus, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, influenza, shingles, and chickenpox. A vaccine may consist of a weakened form of the virus, viral proteins called antigens that stimulate the body to form antibodies that will fight off future infections with the same virus or live-attenuated viruses such as immunization for poliomyelitis. Vaccinations exist for polio,

measles, mumps, and rubella, among others. The widespread use of these vaccines has reduced their prevalence dramatically. Vaccinations are generally the cheapest and most effective way to prevent viruses. Some vaccines have succeeded in eliminating diseases, such as smallpox. Vaccinations also carry the advantage of​ herd immunity ​ , where a virus can be effectively eliminated from a community if a significant percentage of its inhabitants are properly vaccinated against it.

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Understanding Stress And Anxiety

The epidemic of stress and anxiety has far-reaching consequences for health within modern society. In the US, 77% of people say stress and anxiety have significant adverse effects on their physical health, and for 73%, it causes significant mental health issues. As it is a major contributor to depression and hostile behavior, your inability to cope with stress might affect the people around you as well. To understand why stress is so prevalent, we need to take a look at our evolutionary roots.

When our ancestors lived in the wild, thousands of years ago, their lives depended on finding the best solution for an immediate issue. To make sure they are properly motivated to take action, the brain introduced stress, or more specifically acute stress, that helped them get rid of the immediate threat to their well-being. Once the stressor goes away, acute stress does the same, and it has no lingering effects at all. But when we talk about how stressed we are, the stress we experience does not go away like that. Often it is lurking in the background, looking for something to get stressed about. This is chronic stress, and this type of stress is only experienced by humans and to a lesser degree by domesticated animals.

Causes of chronic stress come tied to the recent development of technology and civilizations and this is a fact that is worth taking a deeper look at. Although we are several thousand years away from the stone age, it seems like our brains are yet to get the memo. The evolution of the human brain has not yet caught up with modern civilization. For millions of years, our ancestors lived in an Immediate-Return Environment, where they needed to take action in the face of immediate problems in order to survive and the choices that they made had an immediate effect in their lives. However, since humans started civilizations a few thousand years ago, they needed to invest much effort and time into tasks that would only reward them at a later time, without knowing for sure if their efforts will be rewarded. Today, we are living in this modern Delayed-Return Environment, with brains evolved to deal only with acute stress and immediate rewards, feeling constantly uncertain about those rewards. Making things even worse, often we can do nothing about what is causing us stress, unlike in an immediate-return environment, where we can take immediate action to deal with the stressor. Inflammation has been linked to anxiety and depression.

When the cause of our stress is in the future, the threat exists only in our minds and we are unable to do anything about it, making us spiral into an endless cycle of stress and anxiety. Although they have similar symptoms and are often used interchangeably, stress and anxiety are not the same thing. As we discussed before, stress is a natural physical response to an external change or a challenge, often varying in severity and length. Anxiety, on the other hand, is a sustained mental health issue that triggers persistent and excessive worries. The line between these two often gets blurred, with stress triggering anxiety. Mild stress and anxiety can be managed with mindfulness practices, relaxation techniques, and physical exercises, but coping with chronic forms of both should involve getting help from mental health professionals.