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What Are Adult Vaccinations and Do I Need Them?

What Are Adult Vaccinations and Do I Need Them?

Dear Doctor,
I am 50 years old and in good health, and I want to stay that way. I thought vaccinations were just for children but I have heard that there are about a half dozen “adult” vaccinations that I may need to look into.  Can you tell me about these vaccinations and are they necessary?

Everglades City, FL.

Adult Vaccinations

Thank you for your question Ben.  Vaccines and vaccinations are hot topics these days.  Whether due to personal feelings, medical advice, scientific data, political agenda, or religious beliefs, some people are very passionate, either pro or con, about vaccines.  Most of today’s conversations circle around childhood immunizations, but what is rarely discussed is the important vaccines for older Americans.  For many vaccines, the adage “You’re Never Too Old” may apply!

A vaccine is defined as a substance used to stimulate the production of antibodies and provide immunity against one or several diseases.  They are prepared from the causative agent of a disease, its products, or a synthetic substitute, treated to act as an antigen without inducing the disease.

In laymen’s terms a vaccine is anything that boosts the immune system to fight off a specific disease or set of diseases by giving the body a small part of the agent (virus, bacteria, parasite) that causes the disease so the immune system will recognize it and destroy it before it has a chance to cause problems.

The word “vaccine” was first used in 1798 by Edward Jenner in reference to cowpox (scientific name is Variolae vaccinaez).  While Jenner was completing his apprenticeship as a surgeon, he learned that dairy workers would never get the disease smallpox which could be fatal or at least disfiguring.  He also learned that these dairy workers had previously been infected with cowpox, which has a very mild effect in humans.  In 1796, he took pus from a pustule on the hand of a milkmaid who was infected with cowpox, and scratched it into the arm of an 8-year-old boy.  Six weeks later the boy was inoculated with the smallpox virus, but never caught the smallpox disease.  After that Jenner extended his studies and in 1798 reported that his “vaccine” was safe in children and adults.

Since that time there have been many other vaccines developed.  In the United States alone,over 30 different vaccines are routinely used.  Most are used to immunize children and military but there are six that are recommended for civilian adults.

These vaccines are not always the same as for children, and should be discussed with your doctor especially if you have certain health conditions, or are pregnant.

Let’s take a look at the six important vaccines you should consider beyond 18 years of age.

1. Shingles (Zoster Vaccine)

If you have never experienced shingles, you’re lucky!  Statistically, one in 3 people will suffer with shingles in their lifetime and it is potentially one of the more excruciating nerve infections you can get.  It is caused by the varicella-zoster virus, the same virus that is responsible for chickenpox in children, and can reappear later in life as Shingles.  The infection originates in the nerves of the spinal cord, more accurately the dorsal root ganglia, where the varicella-zoster virus lays dormant after the chickenpox infection has resolved.  There it waits until your immune system is compromised and strikes along the path of the nerve.  If you have shingles, you can’t directly pass it on to someone else, but you can still infect someone with chickenpox who has never had it.  The CDC recommends you receive the Shingles vaccine if you’re in the 50 to 64 age bracket (even if you’ve had shingles before).

2. Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

Human Papilloma virus is a sexually transmitted virus that is most well-known for causing disfiguring genital warts and as bad as that is, it’s far from the limits of its devastation.  Some subtypes of HPV can actually trigger cancer…..penile or oral cancer in men and cervical and/or vaginal cancers in women.  And the most frightening aspect is the subtypes that cause cancer have no symptoms prior to the development of cancer, so you so you don’t know you have it.  The CDC reports about one in four people are currently infected with HPV in the United States.

The HPV vaccine is aimed at preteens and young adults in an attempt to vaccinate prior to sexual activity, however, the U.S.  Department of Health recommends the vaccine be given to those who didn’t receive the initial vaccinations.  3-doses for women until 26-years of age, and 2-doses for men to age 21 (or age 26 if there are other risk factors).

3. Influenza (Flu Shot)

Young and older people are urged to get a flu vaccine each year for the seasonal virus that can cause fever, headache, runny nose, sneezing, chills, body or muscle aches, sore throat, coughing, and other symptoms.  Due to the virus’s sectional DNA the strain of flu is able to change from season to season making it impossible to build immunity to it.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports that more than 60 percent of trips to the hospital related to flu involve patients 65-years or older.  The NIH strongly recommends adults aged 50 and over gets the flu shot each year, prior to flu season which usually runs from October through February.  Everyone should discuss this with their doctor prior to vaccination.

4. Pneumococcal Disease (PCV13 and PPSV23)

Pneumococcal bacterial infectious can lead to a number of potentially fatal diseases, especially for older adults.  These diseases include pneumonia, meningitis, and septicemia (bloodstream infection).  According to the National Foundation of Infectious Diseases these infections kill close to 20,000 seniors each year.

While the PCV vaccine is recommended for younger patients, there are 2-vaccines usually administered for those aged 65 or older.  These include the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13) and a pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23).  The PCV13 is usually given at age 65 and the PPSV23 is give at least 1 year after the PCV13.

5. Hepatitis A

The Hepatitis A virus can cause serious liver disease.  It is spread through personal contact or contaminated water or ice.  The Hep-A vaccine is strongly recommended for travelers for this reason.

Adults who contract Hep-A are more likely to suffer with symptoms than children.  These symptoms can last for weeks and include fever, fatigue, jaundice, nausea, and severe stomach pain.  In rare instances it can be fatal.  If contracted, a supplementary shot of immune globulin (IG) can be considered for older adults or those with compromised immune systems.

6. Tetanus, Diphtheria, and Pertussis (Td/Tdap)

These are three potentially life-threatening diseases that are covered by one combination vaccine.

Tetanus is caused by the bacterium Clostridium tetani which is found in soil, dust and animal feces.  When the spores of the bacterium enter a deep flesh wound, they grow into bacteria and produce a powerful toxin, tetanospasmin.

This toxin impairs motor neurons which are the nerves that control your muscles.  The toxin can cause muscle stiffness and spasms which are the major signs and symptoms of tetanus.  Nearly all cases of tetanus occur in people who have never been vaccinated or in adults who haven't kept up with their 10-year booster shots.

Diphtheria is caused by the bacterium Corynebacterium diphtheriae.  It is spread in 3 main ways: Airborne droplets, contaminated personal items, and contaminated household items.  Symptoms of diphtheria include sore throat, fever, swollen glands and weakness.  However, the hallmark sign of diphtheria is a thick sheet of gray tissue which covers the back of the throat.  This can narrow the airway, causing a struggle to breath.  Luckily, diphtheria is extremely rare in the United States and other developed countries, thanks to widespread vaccination against the disease.

Pertussis, commonly referred to as Whooping cough, is a highly contagious respiratory tract infection caused by bacteria called Bordetella pertussis.  This infection can be especially dangerous for babies and older adults.

Before the vaccine was developed, whooping cough was considered a childhood disease.  Now whooping cough primarily affects children too young to have completed the full course of vaccinations as well as teenagers and adults whose immunity has faded.

The Tdap vaccine for adults should not be confused with the DTaP vaccine you received as a child.  While Tdap will protect you from all three aforementioned health conditions, Td on its own is only a booster for Tetanus and Diphtheria and does not cover whooping cough.

In conclusion, I would urge you to speak to your primary physician about these vaccines to determine if any of them are right for you.  If you would like a second opinion on how to protect and prevent the illnesses described about, or to discuss your overall health goals, I would welcome the opportunity to meet with you.

Call our office today to schedule your FREE consultation with our medical team.

To a Long and Healthy Life!

Richard Freier, M.D.
Medical Director
Optimal Male Performance Center
Office: 239.596.8886

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