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Arm Yourself with the Facts About Immunizations

September 28, 2010

Adult Immunization Awareness Week Is September 26 – October 2

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recognizes immunizations as one of the most significant health achievements of the past century. Vaccines have eradicated smallpox, eliminated the polio virus in the U.S. and dramatically reduced the incidence of measles, diphtheria, rubella (German measles) and pertussis (whooping cough). Yet thousands of Americans still die from these and other vaccine-preventable diseases.

"Unfortunately, our success with vaccines has made us complacent, and some people have become lax about keeping their vaccinations up to date," says Dr. Shelli Bodnar, a family medicine physician on staff with Washington Hospital. "People will say, ‘We don’t have polio or measles around anymore, so we don’t need to bother with vaccinations.’ In addition, some people think vaccines aren’t needed after childhood. But many vaccine-preventable diseases occur in adults."

Lack of proper vaccination has resulted in a recent increase in the incidence of whooping cough. "Pertussis in adults may not produce severe symptoms, but it can be very dangerous – even deadly – for infants, especially those under two months old who can’t be vaccinated," she explains. "The vaccine does not provide a lifetime immunity, so adults should receive ‘booster’ shots, usually as a combined tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis (Tdap) vaccine. It’s especially important for adults who live with or provide care for infants."

One vaccine that does provide lifetime immunity is the varicella virus vaccine, which prevents chickenpox. Adults who did not have chickenpox as a child should be vaccinated, since the disease can be serious in adults.

Flu vaccines, on the other hand, must be administered on a yearly basis because a person’s immunity declines over the course of a year. Also, flu viruses change from year to year, so vaccines created for flu viruses circulating last year may not protect against this year’s viruses.

"This year’s seasonal flu vaccine also protects against H1N1," Dr. Bodnar says. "Even if you got an H1N1 flu shot last year, you should get this year’s combined flu vaccine. Also, there is a new higher-dose flu shot for people over age 65 because they often have weaker immune systems."

The CDC recommends several other immunizations for adults:

  • Pneumococcal poly-saccharide – A bacterial disease that kills more people in the U.S. each year than all other vaccine-preventable diseases combined. The vaccine is recommended for adults over age 65 and those with risk factors such as chronic medical conditions.
  • Hepatitis A – A viral disease that often results in chronic liver failure. Immunization is especially important for people who travel or work outside the U.S., particularly in developing countries, and those with liver disease.
  • Hepatitis B – A virus spread through contact with blood or other body fluids. The vaccine is recommended for all adolescents and adults, but especially for people who have intimate contact with hepatitis B-positive persons.
  • Meningococcal – A leading cause of bacterial meningitis – a sometimes-fatal infection of fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord. Vaccination is recommended beginning in preadolescence, as well as for people who never received the vaccine previously.
  • Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR) – The vaccine is recommended for adults born in 1957 or later – especially those born outside the U.S. – if there is no proof of immunity. The vaccine is especially important for women of childbearing age without immunity because rubella in the early months of pregnancy can cause birth defects.
  • Polio – Those who never received the vaccine in childhood may wish to be vaccinated if they travel to countries where the virus is present, such as India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and various African nations.
  • Herpes zoster (Shingles) – A single dose of vaccine is recommended for all adults over age 60 regardless of whether they had a prior episode of shingles.
  • Human-papillomavirus (HPV) – A virus known to cause cervical cancer. Vaccination is recommended for all women from age 11 through 26. The HPV4 vaccine may be administered to males aged 9 through 26 years to reduce the likelihood of acquiring genital warts.

"A few people think the risks of side effects from vaccinations outweight the benefits, but they are badly misinformed," Dr. Bodnar cautions. "Just because you read or see something on the Internet or TV doesn’t mean it’s true. It’s important to consult reliable sources such as the CDC or the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) – as well as your doctor.

"I get vaccinated," she adds. "I make sure my kids get vaccinated. I want my patients to be vaccinated, too."

Learn More About Immunizations
Do you have questions about your up-to-date vaccines? Join Dr. Barbara Kostick on Wednesday, September 29 to learn more about important immunizations for healthy adults. The lecture will take place from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Conrad E. Anderson M.D. Auditoriums, located at 2500 Mowry Avenue (Washington West) in Fremont. Register online at www.whhs.com or call (800) 963-7070.

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