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Vaccinations/Immunization
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Immunization in adulthood is just as important as it is for children and adolescents. The recommendations for immunization are not standard, and will vary for each woman, depending on lifestyle, susceptibility, travel plans, profession, age and health. In order to find out which immunizations are recommended for you and your lifestyle, it is best to see your doctor. Some immunizations will last for a lifetime, which means that if you had a vaccination when you were a child, you won’t need it again. Other vaccinations, like tetanus and flu shots, need to be retaken in order to remain effective over a lifespan. A lot of conflicting information and myths are out there regarding vaccinations being harmful. If you get your information from a magazine or an exposé on television, talk to your doctor before you formulate an opinion. The truth is, that although a link between vaccines and medical conditions might be reported, that doesn’t mean there is any direct correlation. Vaccinations are proven to prevent serious and deadly conditions. Ask your doctor if you are worried about the harmful effects of a vaccination, but remember that the negative risks associated with a vaccine are far, far less than the harm that could be caused by a disease that a vaccine prevents.

Flu shots are in extremely high demand during the fall and the beginning of the winter, when the flu season can get out of hand. Most hospitals and doctor’s offices will provide the flu shot for anybody who is interested. Sometimes, hospitals, doctors and even states will run out of a supply for the vaccination because it is in such a high demand. The flu shot prevents against influenza, which is a common, extremely contagious, sickness that is caused by a virus. The flu shot needs to be taken every year, because the influenza virus continually changes and the vaccine needs to be reformulated to offer protection against new strains. Many times people decide to get a flu shot because they notice that they end up with the flu every year, and desire extra protection against the “flu epidemic,” which generally strikes every winter. It is generally recommended that adults get the vaccine if they are at greater risk for developing complications related to the flu. This is for you if you are:

  • over age 50
  • have a serious medical condition such as HIV, cancer or diabetes
  • will be pregnant during flu season (talk to your doctor about all vaccines if you are pregnant)
  • are taking medicine that suppresses your immune system
  • or if you could pass the infection to somebody who is at higher risk for developing complications (If you live in “close quarters,” such as a dormitory, nursing home or an institution, then you could also benefit from the flu shot. Talk to your doctor before you decide to get the flu shot in case you have any specific allergies that might cause you to reject the vaccination.)

Other vaccinations that might be recommended for an adult include:

Tetanus booster: This vaccination should be administered every ten years throughout your life. Tetanus is a bacterial infection caused by deep wounds, and you probably have heard about tetanus regarding “rusty nails.” You can also get tetanus through severe wounds without contact with rusty nails or metal of any kind. Tetanus can be fatal, so it is important to protect yourself against the disease. With immunization, tetanus is extremely rare. If you are receiving the vaccination for the first time as an adult, then you will need to have a series of three shots, spaced apart by 1 to 2 months, and then 6 to 12 months.

Pneumococcal vaccine: This vaccination will prevent against the bacteria that causes severe infections including pneumonia, meningitis and blood infections. Because these infections can be fatal in older adults, it is recommended that the vaccine be taken after the age of 65. The vaccine is also recommended for adults who have weakened immune systems due to medication or a condition, have a chronic disease, don’t have a spleen (or have a weak spleen), live in areas with an increased risk (talk to your doctor). For adults, the form of vaccine is called pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPV).

Measles, mumps and rubella vaccine: This vaccination is widespread in the US, and most children receive two injections and have immunity. If you are an adult who was born after 1957 (born before that year means you are considered immune) and you never received the vaccine, then you should. Healthcare workers and college students are also required to get the vaccine. So are non-pregnant women of child-bearing age who do not already have immunity.

Chicken pox vaccine: You’ve probably already heard that chicken pox can be very serious if contracted during adulthood, but it is especially dangerous if you get it while you are pregnant. If you are not already immune to chicken pox (immunity is generally attained by having the infection already), then it is recommended that you get a chicken pox vaccine. If you don’t remember if you ever had chicken pox, or want to double check, a simple blood test can show if you have immunity. The shot is a series of two shots, 4 weeks apart, for anyone over the age of 13. You should not get the shot if you are pregnant.

Hepatitis A vaccine: Hepatitis A is a liver disease that is potentially serious. There is an increased risk for contacting hepatitis A among children and teens living in group settings. If you have not already had a hepatitis vaccination as an adult, it is recommended that you do so. The hepatitis A vaccine is administered in a series of two doses, given 6 to 18 months apart.

Hepatitis B vaccine: Hepatitis B is a liver condition that could cause serious complications. If you are an adult who does not have immunity, it is recommended that you have the vaccination. The vaccination is administered in a series of three shots and is safe for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. In response to the shot, you may experience pain or a low fever.

In addition to the above mentioned vaccinations, you might need to get additional vaccinations if you intend to travel out of the country, particularly to underdeveloped countries. Your age, health, location and length of stay are all factors in considering whether vaccination is necessary. If you are traveling to countries in Africa, Asia, and Central and South America, you might be at a greater risk for contracting such diseases as yellow fever and typhoid fever. Talk to your doctor to get complete information about vaccinations well in advance of your trip (at least one month).

Because of recent events that have caused fear in the American populations regarding bioterrorism, many people are concerned about getting immunizations against biological weapons. Immunizations against anthrax and smallpox, however, are not available to the general public. They are also not recommended because of serious side effects. If you feel that you are at high risk of coming into contact with anthrax or contacting smallpox, you may be eligible for the vaccinations. This high-risk group includes healthcare workers in bioterrorism fields, infection-control personnel, military personnel and lab workers who deal with imported or infected animals.