Monday, February 25, 2008
Vaccinations for adults
By Val Willingham
In an effort to keep to one of my new year's resolutions, I started cleaning out my old files last weekend. Among all the bills from the '80s, I found my immunizations record. Not my daughter's but mine! It was from almost five decades ago. The card was yellow and wrinkled, but it had some interesting information. Seems I didn't have all the vaccinations I thought I had had as a baby. Luckily, I was able to call my mom and ask her about it. Yes, I had the measles vaccine. Yes, I had mumps as a child. But I was due for a tetanus shot - way overdue. And I had never had a shot for whooping cough. I felt sort of silly. I had always updated my daughter's immunizations but never thought about myself.
And I guess I'm not alone. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most American adults know everything about their kid's vaccinations and very little about their own. Experts are asking adults, especially those over age 30, to check what immunizations they need or need to update in order to be protected against certain illnesses. "The emphasis has been on children," said Dr. William Schaffner, professor and chairman of preventive medicine and the division of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and an adviser to the CDC. "Also, most of the vaccines we've used have been on children. But it's a new era now. All adults need to think about protecting ourselves."
So what vaccines do we need? In our 30s and 40s getting vaccinations for hepatitis A and B and the new whooping cough vaccine is important. That's because whooping cough is back. The medical community thought that was a disease it had conquered back in the 1940s. But it has reappeared and it can affect adults.
Hepatitis A and B are illnesses that can be passed from person to person. If you travel to a lot of foreign countries, the hep A vaccine is essential. Hepatitis B is a sexually transmitted disease. Anyone who is sexually active and/or has multiple partners should get a hepatitis B vaccine.
Also women who are sexually active may want to ask about the new HPV vaccine that protects against the human papilloma virus, the primary cause of cervical cancer. At this point, it's recommended only for patients ages 11 to 26.
Also, it's a good idea for all of us to make sure we've had the MMR vaccine, which protects against measles, mumps and rubella. Catching those viruses as an adult can have serious health effects, so protect yourself.
And update your tetanus shot. You should get one every 10 years, to protect against infection in case if you get an open cut or puncture wound.
And get your flu shot. The best time is in the fall before the flu season starts. It's even more important for anyone over age 50 to get a flu shot, because as we get older, the flu can cause real problems, even death. And if you are susceptible to illness, think about getting a pneumonia vaccine.
As you reach your late 50s, ask your doctor about a shingles vaccine. Do a lot of traveling? Confirm with your doctor or check the CDC Web site to make sure you're up to date for the regions of the world you'll be visiting. It's important you keep a record of all these vaccinations, since different countries require different shots.
So check your immunization charts and get updated today. Stay healthy! Don't be like me and wait till you decide to clean out your basement.
Do you know where your immunization records are? Do you update your vaccinations? We'd like to hear about it.
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