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Published: February, 2012; Vol 8, Num 9

 

Vaccinations Are Not Just for Children

It’s Not Too Late to Get Your Flu Shot!

Flu season can last as late as May so if you haven’t been vaccinated, do it now. Flu sickens and kills thousands of people every year and leads to more than 200,000 hospitalizations. An annual flu vaccination is your best protection.

Other Flu-Fighting Tips

  • Cover nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing/ sneezing or cough/ sneeze into elbow.
  • Wash hands often with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand cleaner, especially after coughing/ sneezing.
  • Avoid touching eyes, nose, mouth.
  • Avoid close contact with sick people.
  • If you have the flu, stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone (fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine) and keep away from others.

When most of us think about vaccinations, we usually think of children. However, the need to be immunized is never outgrown. To remain healthy and to help keep others around them healthy, adults should be current on their vaccinations.

Vaccine-preventable diseases kill millions of adults in the United States every year. They die from illnesses such as pneumonia – approximately 52,000 lives lost annually – and influenza or flu, which claims an annual average of 23,600. Millions more become chronically sick with illnesses like Hepatitis B (HBV) and Hepatitis C (HCV), which can lead to liver cancer or end-stage liver disease (see LIFELINES, January 2012).

Vaccine-preventable diseases force adults to take time off from work. This can affect their ability to care for their families. Furthermore, some of these diseases, such as the flu, for which adults should be vaccinated yearly, easily spread to others.

Factors in what vaccinations an adult needs are determined by age, life-style, travel plans, medical conditions and past immunizations. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV) for all adults 65 years of age and older as well as for those 19 and older who smoke, have chronic health problems such as heart disease, diabetes and asthma or who are receiving treatment for conditions like cancer or kidney failure. For some adults, the PPSV is a one-time vaccination. Others may need to be re-vaccinated. Your health care provider will discuss what is appropriate for you.

Another vaccination that the CDC recommends for adults is the Zoster (shingles) vaccination for people age 60 and older. Shingles or herpes zoster is a painful, weeping rash caused by the varicella zoster virus (VZV), the same bug that causes chickenpox. Once you have had chickenpox, VZV remains with you for the rest of your life, quietly residing in your body’s nerve cells until for some reason – advancing age and compromised immune systems seem to be triggers – it reactivates. According to the CDC, one out of every three adults will contract shingles. The disease appears with increasing frequency starting around the age of 50 – half of all cases occur in people over the age of 60 – and is a prevalent health issue among seniors. Half of all people living to age 85 have had or will get shingles.

The CDC further recommends that adults receive vaccinations for measles, mumps, rubella (German measles), diphtheria and chicken pox unless they had these illnesses as children. The pertussis (whooping cough) vaccination, typically administered in early childhood, should be given again, particularly to anyone – health care workers, parents – who has contact with infants. Infants are at greatest risk for dying from whooping cough and mothers are the source of nearly one-third of whooping cough cases in children under the age of 1.

The CDC’s adult vaccine recommendations are listed below. Additional information including vaccinations suggested when traveling outside of the U.S. is available on the CDC website. Consult with your health care provider to find out which of these you are in need of and if there are others that would be of benefit to you.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]