That’s why I get a flu vaccine every year. Getting one did not completely ensure that I wouldn’t get sick with something contagious, but it increased the odds that I would be well to visit my father when I wanted to.
Even now that he’s gone, I continue to get vaccinated against influenza every year, in early fall. I know that a bout with the flu is no fun and that if I come down with it, not only will I miss work, but it also will take me a while to get back up to speed with other activities as well. A severe bout could even land me in the hospital.
The toll that vaccine-preventable illnesses can take on us—especially as we get older—is a great reason to brush up on what inoculations you might still need as an adult.
Take influenza. In 2017-18, the United States experienced an especially bad flu season.
CDC estimates that flu has resulted in between 9.2 million and 35.6 million illnesses, between 140,000 and 710,000 hospitalizations and between 12,000 and 56,000 deaths annually since 2010.
Most of these people are adults, although the recent flu season was an especially bad one for children too. But just about everyone over the age of 6 months can get the flu vaccination. Those with chronic conditions or weakened immune systems should line up for a shot if they can, because they can be more susceptible to illness.
And annually, there are approximately 1 million cases of shingles, which usually manifests as a painful, blistering rash on the body and sometimes on half of the face. About 10-15 percent of people who get shingles experience postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), which is severe pain in the areas where the shingles rash occurred.
Shingles is caused by varicella zoster virus (VZV), the same virus that causes chickenpox. If you had chickenpox as a child, the virus remains dormant in your body and can emerge as a case of the shingles, often when you are older.
Luckily, there is a way to help avoid these illnesses—vaccination. Shingrix, the new shingles vaccine that has been found to be more than 90 percent effect, is currently available through Monongalia County Health Department’s Clinical Services program for those who do not have insurance or who are underinsured. Eventually, we should have doses for anyone who wants it.
Unfortunately, not all adults know about their risk for these illnesses. Or they are so busy with their jobs and their families they do not take the time to protect themselves. The number of people getting the shingles vaccine has been rising since the original vaccine, Zostavax, was introduced in 2006. But in 2016, that rate for those over the age of 60 getting the vaccine was still only 33.4 percent.
Certain vaccines are recommended based on a person’s age, occupation or health conditions, such as asthma, COPD, diabetes or heart disease.
Also, if you travel, you might need vaccines depending on where you plan to go. That’s where MCHD Clinical Services’ International Travel Clinic can help. County Health Officer Dr. Lee B. Smith, a frequent traveler himself, can help determine what vaccines you need—as well as provide other useful information—depending on your destination.
All adults should have their immunization needs assessed by a health provider, including expectant mothers, who can receive the flu vaccine during any trimester of pregnancy. And if you are pregnant or going to be around babies and young children, a Tdap vaccine not only offers protection against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis, but also offers a safety net to the infants and toddlers against the latter illness, also known as whooping cough. Whooping cough is usually much more serious for babies who are too young for vaccination, and a case of it can result in hospitalization and even death.
If you are unsure which vaccinations you need, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers a short quiz that will guide you. And remember, your physician or health care provider can also help you decide which inoculations you should get, as well as when.
For more information about adult and travel vaccines, or to make an appointment, call Monongalia County Health Department at 304-598-5119.