Vaccines are not just for Kids
By Mary Wade Triplett
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 my odds that I would be well to visit my father whenever I wanted to.
Even now that he’s gone, I continue to get vaccinated against influenza every year, in early fall. I now 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.
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 well as what age. On average each year, 226,000 people are hospitalized with influenza, and between 3,000 and 49,000 people die of the illness and its complications. Most of these people are adults. Just about everyone over the age of 6 months can get the flu vaccination. Those with chronic conditions or weakened immune systems especially should line up for a shot.
But flu isn’t the only disease to keep at bay. About 900,000 people get pneumococcal pneumonia every year, leading to as many as 400,000 hospitalizations and 19,000 deaths. And between 850,000 to 2.2 million people have Hepatitis B, which can lead to complications including liver cancer.
In the United States alone, human papillomavirus (HPV) causes about 17,000 cancers in women and 9,000 cancers in men each year. About 4,000 women die each year from cervical cancer.
And of the approximately 1 million cases of shingles that occur annually, up to 9 percent will involve the eye. Even those that don’t still result in a painful, blistering rash on the body and sometimes on one half of the face. 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—through vaccination. 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. For instance, only 28 percent of adults 60 years or older have received shingles vaccination.
Certain vaccines are recommended based on a person’s age, occupation or health conditions, such as asthma, COPD, diabetes or heart disease. Lifestyle also is a factor. If you like to travel, the CDC has a website just for you at cdc.gov/travel/destinations/list. Check it out and see what vaccines you might need 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 CDC offers a short quiz that will guide you. And remember, your physician or health care provider also can be of help when deciding which inoculations you should get and when.
For more information about adult and travel vaccines, call the Monongalia County Health Department at 304-598-5119.