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Adult Immunizations: What You Need to Know to Protect Yourself

Adult Immunizations: What You Need to Know to Protect Yourself
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BY MYRA FAYE TURNER

As a first time mom at the age of 36, one of my biggest concerns was whether I would be able to keep up with my baby’s immunization schedule. I knew how important it was to keep Tyler vaccinated. Fortunately, his pediatrician kept me on track and I never had to worry. Fifteen years later, she’s still keeping me on track.

As adults we often forget that we need immunizations. August is National Immunization Awareness Month and it is the perfect time to make sure you’re current on your vaccinations. You should check with your health care provider, but here’s an overview of five vaccinations you may need.

Influenza

A seasonal influenza or flu shot is recommended annually for anyone over the age of 6 months. Older adults are particularly encouraged to get a flu shot— specifically if you’re over 65. Adults in this age group experience the most serious complications from the flu, due to a weakened immune system. This may include prolonged hospitalization and unfortunately in some cases, death. All adults with chronic health conditions, are strongly encouraged to get an annual flu shot.

Getting a shot is easy. You can get one from your physician or pop over to your local pharmacist. If you’re still employed, you may be able to get a shot without even leaving work because many businesses arrange for employees to receive vaccinations on site.

The flu season various from year to year and depending on where you live. Typically, the season runs from October to May and peaks in the United States between December and February. Getting the vaccine is only one step in staying healthy. You should also take precautions to prevent germs, including the flu.

Tetanus

Tetanus is a disease that can invade your body when you have an open wound or cut. It is different from other diseases we are vaccinated against because it is not spread from person to person. Usually the bacteria gain access to your body through contaminated substances like dirt or feces or from puncture wounds such as a nail. Tetanus is a serious condition. Complications include muscle spasms, painful muscle stiffness and lockjaw—the inability to open your mouth or swallow. So it’s important to keep current on your shots. You should have a one-time Tdap (tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis) vaccine and a Td (tetanus-diphtheria) booster shot every 10 years. Older adults and individuals with diabetes are especially susceptible to contracting tetanus, if not properly vaccinated.

Hepatitis

There are two types of the hepatitis virus you should get vaccinated against. Hepatitis A can be transmitted in many ways, including through contact with an infected person, illegal drug use and unprotected sex with an infected person. The virus can cause liver damage if left untreated. Symptoms include fever, jaundice, sore muscles and abdominal pain.

Hepatitis B is spread through contact with blood or body fluids of someone who is infected. It can also be transmitted through unprotected sex or by using an infected person’s personal item (like a razor) or when drug users share needles and one is infected. It is also possible for a mother to pass the disease to her offspring during childbirth. Hepatitis B can be either acute or chronic with the latter causing serious health concerns and complications, including liver damage, liver cancer and death. According to the Centers for Disease Control, approximately 850,000–2.2 million people in the United States suffer from chronic hepatitis B virus infection. 

Shingles

Shingles—also known as herpes zoster— is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. If you had chickenpox as a kid, you may develop shingles because the virus can lie dormant for years. According to the National Foundation for Infectious Disease, approximately 1 in 3 people will get shingles during their lifetime.

If you are over 60, you are at increased risk of contracting shingles, which causes a painful blistery rash. The rash lasts 7-10 days and usually clears up in 2-4 weeks. If a person who has never had chickenpox comes in contact with an infected person during a shingles outbreak, they will generally develop chickenpox. However, shingles cannot be passed from person to person. Also, in order to transmit the virus, the infected person must be in the “blister phase”; an infected person cannot transmit the virus before then or once the blisters crusts.

In addition to age being a factor, individuals with weakened immune systems are also susceptible to contracting the virus. A serious complication from shingles is post-herpetic neuralgia, which causes severe pain in areas where the shingles outbreak occurred, even after the rash has cleared. Fortunately, a one-dose vaccine is all that’s needed to keep you protected against the virus.

Pneumococcus

The pneumococcus bacteria can cause serious illnesses, including pneumonia and meningitis. If you are older than 65 or have a chronic illness, you are at an increased risk if you’re not properly vaccinated. The bacteria are spread through direct human contact— usually through contact with respiratory secretions. Infections range from mild to life-threatening, especially in the case of meningitis which could lead to death. The National Foundation for Infectious Disease reports that of the 1 million people who contract pneumonia, 5-7 % will die. There are over 90 types of pneumococcal bacteria but getting vaccinated is the easiest way to guard against catching one of them.

For more information about adult vaccinations, visit the Adult Vaccinations website. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers a quiz to determine if you need any vaccinations. Of course, check with your healthcare provider for additional guidance.

 

 

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