Thinking about a flu shot? Adults can benefit from other vaccines too

Published: November 16 2011 | 12:39 pm - Updated: 3 April 2014 | 5:46 am in
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For most adults, flu season marks the one time each year they consider getting vaccinated to protect themselves against disease. However, according to infectious disease experts with University of Iowa Health Care, flu is not the only vaccine-preventable disease that adults should think about.

"The big vaccines for adults to consider along with influenza vaccine are the shingles vaccine and the pneumococcal vaccine," says Patricia Winokur, M.D., UI professor of internal medicine and director of the vaccine treatment unit.

  • Influenza is estimated to cause 30,000 to 40,000 deaths each year in the United States and the highest risk populations are infants and people over the age of 65. Flu vaccination is needed annually because influenza immunity is relatively short-lived and the virus changes each year.
  • Pneumococcal pneumonia is a bacterial infection that causes an estimated 175,000 hospitalizations each year in the United States, and invasive pneumococcal disease causes more than 6,000 deaths annually. More than half of these cases involve adults for whom vaccination against pneumococcal disease is recommended.
  • Shingles affects up to one million Americans every year and causes a painful, blistering rash. The pain may last long after the rash disappears and can be severe. The risk of getting shingles increases with age.

"Vaccine-preventable diseases, including these three, cause significant illness and death in adults, particularly older adults and those with underlying medical conditions," Winokur says. "A single dose of zoster vaccine is recommended for adults aged 60 and older to protect against shingles, and adults age 65 and older should get the pneumococcal vaccine -- the 'pneumonia' shot -- as should adults aged 18 to 64 who have chronic lung, heart, liver or kidney disease."

Protecting yourself protects others

On top of these recommendations, Winokur notes there are some new guidelines regarding vaccines for adults that have implications for children's health too.

"This year for the first time, the American Committee on Immunization Practices has recommended that adults 65 and older should get a single booster of tetanus/diphtheria/acellular pertussis if they have significant contact with infants and young children," Winokur says. "The reason is that there are ongoing outbreaks of pertussis -- whooping cough -- in the country.

"Although older adults may have a bad cough from pertussis, they rarely have significant problems with the disease. However, they can transmit it to young children and these very young children can have severe disease that can lead to death," Winokur explains.

Vaccinating adults to protect infants is called "cocooning." This concept also plays into the CDC recommendations that all individuals age 6 months and older should be vaccinated against influenza. The goal in this case is to make sure that school-aged kids are vaccinated so they do not spread disease to grandparents and other older adults who are at greater risk for developing severe disease.

Other shots?

According to Winokur, there are a number of other vaccinations adults might also consider:

  • Tetanus and diphtheria vaccines for all adults every 10 years.
  • Meningococcal vaccine for first-year college students who will be living in dorms to protect against meningitis.
  • Human papillomavirus vaccine (HPV) for women who are not yet sexually active and are 12-26 years to protect against the types of pallilomavirus that cause cervical cancer.
  • Hepatitis A and hepatitis B vaccines for travelers visiting certain countries where they might be exposed to viruses, and for individuals who have chronic medical conditions, including chronic liver disease.

Winokur notes that most of these recommendations apply to healthy adults, and adults with underlying medical conditions might require modifications to the standard recommendations.

"It is always important to discuss the specifics with your physician," she adds.

For more information on vaccines, visit http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/

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