Beyond The Flu Shot

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Every year we’re reminded to get the flu shot in hopes of bypassing the nasty bug. For many, it’s the one vaccine they keep up with and receive regularly. However, there are a few more vaccines you may want to consider.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a variety of immunizations for adults – 19 and older – for the prevention of several potentially severe illnesses. To know whether or not a vaccine is appropriate for you, begin with a visit with your physician.

“It’s important for patients to talk with their doctor about which vaccines are right for them based on their age, occupation and lifestyle,” says Dr. Andrea Miller, an internal medicine physician at Mercy Clinic Primary Care in Oklahoma City. “There are varying recommendations from various sources, but I don’t like to provide a general recommendation to all of my patients. Since each patient is unique, physicians must consider patients’ individual needs and concerns.”

She adds that it’s important for patients to know if a vaccination is a one-time dose providing life-long immunity, or if it’s part of a series, because some vaccines require a booster.

“Most people don’t keep track of their vaccination records, but it’s actually very important. It can keep you from being revaccinated and save you a lot of trouble when something comes up and you need to know if your vaccinations are up-to-date,” she says. “Having your records on file may also save you from having a blood test to learn what vaccines you’ve already received.”

Dr. Sarah Andrews, an internal medicine physician at Utica Park Clinic in Tulsa, also emphasizes the benefit of maintaining current health records.

“I think all patients should keep an accurate record of all their medical problems, surgeries, medications, etc., including vaccination history,” she says. “It is imperative to remember adverse reactions to vaccines or any medication.”


 

CDC Immunization Recommendations for Adults

Some of the CDC recommended immunizations for adults 19 years and older include the following:

Influenza

Andrews encourages her patients to get the flu vaccine in October.

“Although the strains of the flu virus may vary year to year, October is usually a good month to begin vaccinations regardless,” she says. “If you get vaccinated too early, say in August, the influenza vaccine may not be effective for the entirety of the flu season.”

Tetanus, Diphtheria and Pertussis (Td/Tdap)

A common but often forgotten vaccine is the Td/Tdap. The CDC recommends a one-time dose of Tdap, then a Td booster every 10 years.

“The Tdap is a preventative vaccination against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis, or whooping cough,” says Miller. “We often see caregivers and grandparents who are going to be around infants come in to get their booster, because whooping cough can be very serious for young children.”

Varicella and Zoster

A virus that affects both young and old is the varicella-zoster virus, which causes chicken pox in children and shingles in adults.

“Once you’ve had chicken pox, the virus stays in the body. As you age, your immune system may be less effective, and because viruses are opportunists, it can reactivate as shingles,” says Miller. “I recommend the shingles vaccine to my patients because the timing and location of shingles is so unpredictable. The painful rash associated with shingles can have severe and long-term complications. There is also the possibility of chronic nerve pain, which requires prolonged treatment and pain management.”

Meningococcal

According to the CDC, the meningococcal vaccines help protect against most types of meningococcal disease with a recommendation of one or more doses.

“Most people receive this vaccine during childhood, but it is recommended for adults,” says Miller. “College students, anyone living in a dormitory, patients who had a splenectomy or people with a compromised immune system are most at risk.”

Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR) and Pneumococcal

In regard to the MMR vaccine, the CDC states that “generally, anyone 18 years of age or older who was born after 1956 should get at least one dose of the MMR vaccine, unless they can show they have either been vaccinated or had all three diseases.”

The pneumococcal vaccines are recommended for anyone over 65 or under 65 if they have a chronic medical condition, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, heart disease, etc.

Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

There are 40 strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV), and the HPV vaccine is a preventative for the most common types of HPV that may cause cervical cancer and genital warts. Three doses of the vaccine are recommended for men and women between the ages of 19 and 26.

Hepatitis A and B

For the hepatitis A and B vaccines, individuals should consider criteria, such as age, chronic medical conditions, expected travel, employment settings and other possibilities of exposure to high risk populations.

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