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Vaccinations Aren’t Just for Kids

Abdul Nawabi, MD News

If you’ve ever had children, you know the drill when it comes to vaccines. The process starts at birth and continues into the college years. After that, you’ve made it and it’s all done, right? Not exactly. You might be surprised to hear that the importance of being vaccinated doesn’t end with adolescence.

There are a great number of diseases adults can protect themselves from through ongoing vaccination. These diseases range from things you’ve heard of, like the flu and hepatitis, to others that may not be as familiar, such as HPV and meningococcal and pneumococcal disease.

How critical is it that you get vaccinated against these types of diseases? Consider these statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

• Each year in the United States, 1 million people get shingles (a reactivation of the virus that causes chickenpox). Even after the rash that accompanies this disease disappears, some continue to experience severe pain or suffer from other painful complications for years to come.

• An average of 226,000 people are hospitalized every year due to influenza (flu), and between 3,000 and 49,000 die from flu and its complications. Most of those who die are adults.

• In 2012, there were 32,000 cases of invasive pneumococcal disease and about 3,300 deaths. (This disease is caused by a type of bacteria and can result in a number of different illnesses, such as pneumonia, meningitis, infections of the middle ear and/or sinuses, and bloodstream infection—also known as sepsis.)

• In the U.S., 800,000 to 1.4 million people have chronic hepatitis B and complications from the disease, such as liver cancer. Hepatitis B is highly infectious, meaning you can get it from other people.

• Each year, the human papillomavirus (better known as HPV) is responsible for about 17,000 cancers in women and about 9,000 cancers in men. About 4,000 women die each year from cervical cancer, which can be caused by HPV.

Although these are sobering statistics, the great news is that there are vaccinations readily available that can help to protect you from all of these diseases and others. Depending on your age and health status, it may be especially important for you to get specific vaccinations.

The best way to determine what vaccinations you should have and when is to talk with your primary care physician. The CDC has a handy online questionnaire—available in English and Spanish—you can complete, print and take with you to your appointment as a guideline for your conversation. Go to http://www2a.cdc.gov/nip/adultimmsched/. Alternatively, you can go to cdc.gov and search “vaccine quiz.”

There are two vaccines you should particularly consider getting, unless a physician counsels you otherwise: An annual flu vaccine and a Td/Tdap vaccine, which protects against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis—which is also known as whooping cough. (The CDC recommends one dose of Tdap, as well as Td booster every 10 years. It is also suggested that women get a Tdap vaccine during each pregnancy to help protect their babies from pertussis.)

Life is busy, and there are always more things on our to-do lists than we have time to accomplish. So why should you make adult vaccinations a priority? Frankly, one of the most important reasons is the simple fact that many of these diseases are very painful. Why put yourself through the misery and potential long-term complications of a disease that may be prevented by a single visit to your physician’s office?

In addition, these illnesses could be expensive—both in a literal sense as a result of days or weeks away from work and in an emotional sense if you have to miss special times with family members and friends because you’re sick.

Finally, if you don’t get vaccinated for yourself, do it for others. Many of these diseases we’ve discussed are contagious, meaning you can pass them on to family members, friends and co-workers. Some people, such as pregnant women or people with cancer or other diseases can’t tolerate vaccines, so if they contract a disease from you, they will be at great risk for serious illness or even death.

It’s worth taking some time right now to consider speaking with your primary care physician about which vaccines are right for you.

Abdul Nawabi, MD, is a family medicine physician in Simi Valley and a member of the Simi Valley Hospital medical staff.