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Learn About Adult Immunizations at Washington Hospital Seminar

September 21, 2010

Vaccinations Aren’t Just for Kids

Have you had your shots? Vaccinations aren’t just for kids. Healthy adults can protect themselves from the flu, shingles, whooping cough, and a number of other diseases thanks to a wide variety of vaccines available today.

"Vaccines are relatively safe and effective in preventing disease," said Dr. Barbara Kostick, MD, medical director of Washington Hospital Community Services. "Vaccines have changed medicine. For example, we don’t see as many ear infections or cases of meningitis."

She will talk about vaccines at an upcoming seminar titled, "Important Immunizations for Healthy Adults," from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday, September 29, at the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditoriums at Washington West, 2500 Mowry Avenue, in Fremont. To register online, please visit www.whhs.com or call (800) 963-7070.

Kostick will provide an overview of some of the vaccinations available to healthy adults, including who should get them and how they work. She said a big concern for older adults is preventing shingles.

"About 20 percent of people will get shingles at some point during their lifetime," she said. "The vaccine is recommended for adults who are ages 60 to 80."

Shingles causes a rash that can become quite painful. It occurs when the virus that causes chickenpox becomes active again. Most people get chickenpox as children and when the sickness ends, the virus remains dormant in the body’s nerve roots. In some people, it stays dormant forever. But for others, it can become active again, especially if the immune system becomes weakened as a result of stress, other illnesses, and the aging process.

Influenza (flu) is another disease that can be problematic as we age, according to Kostick. While the flu vaccine is recommended for all adults, it is particularly important for adults over age 65.

"The elderly are at greater risk from dying from the flu," she said. "A flu shot is a great way to prevent serious illness from the influenza virus. Often flu and pneumonia go together , so we also recommend a pneumonia vaccination for those over 65."

This year’s flu vaccine protects against three influenza strains, she added. One is the H1N1 strain and two others that are expected to circulate this flu season.

Younger Adults Also Need Protection

Kostick will talk about vaccines that are recommended for younger adults as well. For example, the HPV vaccine is recommended for women up to age 26. It protects against the human papillomavirus, which can cause cervical cancer and other less common genital cancers.

"The HPV vaccine can be controversial because we recommend vaccinating girls at age 11 or 12, before they become sexually active," Kostick said. "Some people think giving the vaccine is a green light for sexual activity, but it’s really a way to save lives."

The vaccine that protects against meningitis is also recommended for teens and young adults, particularly if they are in a communal living situation like a college dormitory, she said. Meningitis is an inflammation of the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord. It typically starts with a high fever, headache and stiff neck.

"The Tdap vaccine is also important, especially right now," Kostick said. "California has experienced a whooping cough epidemic this summer, and Tdap covers tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis or whooping cough."

She said the vaccine is especially important for new parents and others who live with or care for an infant because infants are most at risk for serious illness and even death. Whooping cough is a highly contagious disease that starts off like an ordinary cold. It can cause serious coughing fits that make it hard to breathe.

Kostick will also talk about the hepatitis A and B vaccines. She recommends them for adults who are planning to travel to developing countries, where hepatitis is more prevalent. Hepatitis is a general term that means inflammation of the liver.

While both hepatitis A and B are caused by a virus, they differ in how they are transmitted. Hepatitis A is spread predominantly through fecal matter. The virus can be ingested if food or water becomes contaminated with it. Hepatitis B is mostly spread through the transfer of infected blood or body fluids.

"There are so many vaccines available today that can help you avoid serious illness," Kostick said. "It’s important to know which ones are appropriate for you."

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