Adults Young and Old Need Vaccines

21 05 2012

Adults know to wash hands and wear condoms to prevent infections. And we try to eat fruits and veggies to stay healthy. Some days, we even exercise.

One thing we don’t do enough of is get vaccinated.

Other than the flu vaccine in the autumn, I seldom think about vaccines for myself. I bet I’m not alone.

But, we should remember to vaccinate.

We make sure our kids wear seatbelts and helmets, cross the street at the light and keep a weather eye on the ocean for sneaker waves, and get all the vaccines they need.

For the most part, we follow the same safety rules, except for that one about vaccines.

I am determined to get myself fully vaccinated and to nag encourage friends to do the same. I don’t want to get sick and think “if only.”

If you’re like-minded, I’ve listed the diseases for which there are vaccines for adults 19 years of age and older. Not every adult will need every vaccine, so print out this post and take it to your provider, find out what vaccines you need, and realize that you may need more vaccines if you’re traveling outside the US:

  • Flu is a respiratory illness. It can cause fever, chills, sore throat, cough, muscle or body aches, headaches, tiredness, and a runny or stuffy nose. You get over it after several miserable days, unless you develop complications, some of which can be life-threatening.
  • Tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis vaccines are combined for adults. Tetanus is caused by certain bacteria entering the body through a break in the skin. It’s the one that causes lockjaw, and can cause spasms and seizures. It has a surprisingly high death rate of 10 – 20% of cases. Diphtheria is caused by bacteria spread person-to-person and can damage the heart, kidneys and nerves. Pertussis, also called whooping cough, is a very contagious disease caused by bacteria. In some parts of the world, it’s called the 100-day cough. The “whoop” is most often heard from babies, for whom it can be a lethal infection.
  • Varicella, also called chickenpox, is a virus that spreads easily and causes a blistery rash, itching and fever. For some, it can cause severe complications including pneumonia or sepsis.
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a sexually transmitted infection that is very common in the population. Most people get it and get over it, but some will develop genital warts or cervical or other types of cancers.
  • Zoster or shingles is caused by once having had chickenpox. The virus stays in the body after the chickenpox clears up and goes away, and years later can reactivate, causing pain and itching, followed by a rash.
  • Measles, mumps, rubella vaccines are also combined for adults. Measles is caused by a virus that makes you feel like you have a bad cold, along with a rash on the body and white spots in the mouth. It can develop into pneumonia or ear infections, sometimes requiring hospitalization. Rubella is also caused by a virus and brings with it a rash and fever. This infection can be devastating to the fetus if a woman is pregnant when infected. Mumps is caused by a virus with symptoms of fever, fatigue and muscle aches followed by the swelling of the salivary glands. Rarely it will cause fertility problems in men, meningitis or deafness.
  • Pneumococcal disease is caused by bacteria and can appear as pneumonia, meningitis, or a bloodstream infection, all of which can be dangerous.
  • Meningococcal disease is caused by various bacteria, and the available vaccines prevent many of these infections. The symptoms are varied and include nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light and mental confusion. This disease can lead to brain damage, hearing loss, or learning disabilities.
  • Hepatitis A is caused by a virus. It’s generally a mild liver disease, but can rarely severely damage the liver.
  • Hepatitis B is also caused by a virus that damages the liver. Most adults are infected for a short time, but some become chronically infected. The infection can cause jaundice, cirrhosis or even liver cancer.

More information on these infections can be found on the CDC website.

Talk to your provider about these vaccines. Who can afford to get sick these days?

By Trish Parnell

Image courtesy of Lancaster Homes

It’s August – Get Immunized!

8 08 2011

Are you aware of immunizations? You may think that as someone who has passed the childhood years, you’re finished with immunizations. August is National Immunization Awareness Month, and here at PKIDs, we thought you should be aware that immunizations aren’t only for kids anymore. Here is a handy guide to immunizations for specific populations, from children to tweens and teens to those who are more mature in years.


Immunization starts in childhood, with the standard shots against measles, mumps and rubella, chickenpox, polio, hib, hepatitis, diphtheria, pneumococcal, rotavirus, tetanus and whooping cough for children ages six and under. These vaccination programs have been extraordinarily successful at saving lives and permanent negative effects from these diseases. For example:

  • Vaccines have successfully wiped smallpox from the face of the planet. This horrific disease could kill as many as 25% of those infected and left survivors with permanent disfigurement. Scientists declared it globally eradicated—thanks to vaccines—in 1980.
  • Polio used to hit about 50,000 people every year in the United States. Between 13,000 and 20,000 of those cases were paralytic polio that left thousands of children disabled, some in iron lungs, unable to breathe on their own. Thanks to immunization, polio is a thing of the past in the Western Hemisphere but is resurging in areas where immunization programs have been suspended, including Nigeria.
  • The United States is currently experiencing measles outbreaks, primarily among unvaccinated groups. These outbreaks have resulted in high hospitalization rates. Vaccines against measles prevent infection—which also means preventing the death and disability that this highly infectious disease causes. In areas of the world where vaccines are lacking, hundreds of thousands of children die every year from measles.
  • Have you ever known anyone who has died of diphtheria? If not, that’s because of vaccines. About 13,000 people died each year in the United States before the vaccine. In 2002, there was a single case of diphtheria in the US.
  • And take chickenpox. You may not consider chickenpox to be deadly, but before the vaccine, the death rate was about 0.41 per million cases. The death rate has dropped 97% among children and teens since the advent of the varicella vaccine.

Tweens and Teens

Don’t leave out children over age six when it comes to immunizations. Kids ages 11 and 12 need boosters for tetanus, diphtheria, and whooping cough (pertussis), and everyone needs protection against meningococcal with a booster after a few years. Further, current recommendations are also for girls to get the HPV vaccine, which protects against the viruses that most commonly cause cervical cancer. Remember that your daughter’s sexual behavior or history is not the only determinant of whether or not she will be exposed to the virus; her partner’s past matters, too. The HPV vaccine is also licensed for boys—talk to your son’s provider about vaccination.


If you’re grown, you still need to get a tetanus booster every decade, or TDaP if you haven’t received at least one booster for whooping cough. If you’re age 60 or older, get your shingles vaccine to avoid a painful viral attack on your nervous system. Adults age 65 or better also should get a one-time pneumonia shot.


Everyone should get vaccinated against flu each year, either with a shot or a nasal spray. The nasal spray contains live, weakened viruses and is approved for healthy people ages 2 to 49 who are not pregnant. The flu shot is approved for people ages 6 months and over, either healthy or with chronic health conditions. Children younger than 2 years, pregnant women, and people over age 50 are especially vulnerable and a specifically targeted population for flu shots. If you have a fever, egg allergy, or a history of reaction or Guillain-Barré following a flu shot, you should not get the vaccine.

Speaking of people who can’t get vaccines for medical reasons, one final thing to be aware of during National Immunization Awareness Month and beyond: Vaccinations as preventive healthcare don’t prevent disease only in you or your child. They also protect those who can’t receive vaccine protection because of allergy or medical conditions. It’s protection for all of us.

By Emily Willingham

Image courtesy of CDC

You and the Shingles Vaccine

14 07 2011

Who should…and shouldn’t…get the shingles vaccine?

The virus that causes chickenpox, varicella zoster, doesn’t confine its activity to childhood. For reasons that remain unclear, it can re-emerge in older age as the rash called herpes zoster, more commonly known as shingles. Just as you can get chickenpox only once, usually you also have shingles only once. But that “once” can translate into chronic, unbearable pain if a complication known as postherpetic neuralgia develops. This pain, a burning nerve pain severe enough to disrupt sleep, can last for years.

That’s why people who are eligible for the shingles vaccine should get one. But who are those people?

The short answer is, almost anyone age 60 and over. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved this vaccine only for this age group because researchers have no evidence yet that it’s effective in younger groups. It makes sense because one of the risk factors for developing shingles is . . . being over 60. Another risk factor is having had chickenpox before age 1.

The shingles vaccine is not, however, a substitute for the childhood vaccines against chickenpox.

Some people in the over-60 age group should not get the shingles vaccine. Avoid this vaccine if any of the following applies to you:

  • You’ve had a life-threatening allergic reaction to gelatin or the antibiotic neomycin. The vaccine contains other ingredients, so if you’re deathly allergic to something, check the ingredients list.
  • You’re taking drugs that suppress the immune system or have a disease that does, such as HIV, because this vaccine is a live-virus vaccine.
  • You have tuberculosis.
  • You are or might become pregnant, an unlikely possibility in the 60+ age group.
  • You are moderately to severely ill, including have a fever over 101.3 F. Wait to get the vaccine until you’re better.

Can you get this vaccine if you’ve already had the shingles? Sure, even though you’re not likely to get shingles again. You can also get this vaccine while receiving the influenza vaccine.

Like any vaccine or other medical intervention, the shingles vaccine can have side effects and carry risk. The most common side effects are pain and swelling at the injection site and headache. One large research study of the safety of the vaccine found no difference in rates of negative events between the vaccinated group and the group that received a placebo (a dummy injection). A substudy within that study, however, found a slightly higher rate of serious adverse events in the real vaccine group compared to placebo (1.9% vs. 1.3%). The data did not indicate that the events were vaccine-related.

The effectiveness of this vaccine depends on the outcome in question. Studies indicate that it reduces your risk of getting shingles by about 50%. If you do get shingles, the vaccine is linked to fewer days of pain during the outbreak and shorter periods of pain for people who go on to develop postherpetic neuralgia.

By Emily Willingham

Chickenpox Vaccine and Shingles – Two for the Price of One

20 12 2009

Kaiser Permanente completed a study that reviewed the health records of children who received the varicella (chickenpox) vaccine from 2002 to 2008. This study aimed to compare incidences of shingles in the vaccinated population compared to rates in the unvaccinated population.

Results found decreased rates of shingles in the vaccinated population. The study suggests that vaccinating children for chickenpox also reduces their chances of getting shingles, a secondary viral infection known as herpes zoster that typically results after primary infection with the varicella zoster virus.

Shingles is a very painful skin rash that develops from inactive varicella zoster virus that rests in nerve tissue near the spinal cord and brain. When stress or immune changes in the patient cause the virus to become active, the painful skin rash appears along the nerve.

Anyone who’s had shingles can tell you that it’s something to be avoided at all costs. Do your kids a favor, protect them from chickenpox now, and (possibly) the pain of shingles later.