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Even adults need up-to-date vaccinations

Dr. Alisa Hideg

Resting now that the kids are back in school? Planning a big trip to Mexico? Starting a new job or going back to school?

Before getting too far into your plans at the end of a busy summer, let’s talk about an aspect of your health that rarely crosses the minds of most adults – your vaccinations.

I was given a smallpox vaccine as a child along with so many others. Smallpox is virtually eradicated because of vaccination programs; however, the military gives smallpox vaccines to soldiers in case it ever comes back. When I was in basic training with the military, each soldier received a complete set of vaccines no matter what we had previously.

Because of travel and working in healthcare, I see my doctor for at least one vaccine every year. My vaccinations protect me, but they also protect others I come in contact with from vaccine-preventable diseases.

There are vaccinations that all adults should have and keep up to date. Depending on your health and where you work, you could need Tetanus/Diphtheria/Pertussis, HPV, Chickenpox, Shingles, Measles/Mumps/Rubella, Influenza, Pneumococcal, Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B and/or Meningococcal vaccines.

I have had all of these except for the Shingles and HPV vaccines, since I am too young for one and too old for the other.

Some vaccines are given once in a lifetime, others are done every few years. What is best for you may be based on your job, your age, what illnesses you had as a child, your current health and where you travel.

That is a lot to wade through. The easiest thing to do is talk with your doctor, but you can also look at the Adult Immunization Schedule and use the Adult Vaccination Screening Form at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site (http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/recs/schedules/adult-schedule.htm).

If you are planning a trip overseas, be sure to check what vaccinations are recommended for where you are visiting (wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/list.aspx).

Why should you get all (or even some) of those vaccines?

Shingles is a painful disease you never want to have. Rubella causes birth defects if you catch it while you are pregnant. HPV and Hepatitis B vaccines can reduce your risk of certain types of cancer.

Tetanus shots prevent a disease that can paralyze you. Adults get the Pertussis vaccine to protect children from whooping cough, since adults can pass Pertussis on to kids. Food service workers can be required to have the Hepatitis A vaccine to prevent them passing the virus into the foods they prepare.

Vaccines are created to protect against diseases that can cause severe illness and even death. If you would like to read more about infections in the Unites States before vaccinations and what has happened since vaccines were created, there is more information at the CDC site (www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vac-gen/whatifstop.htm).

Vaccinations save lives and help keep us all healthy, but there can be times when a person cannot be vaccinated. Sometimes an ingredient in the vaccine or the manufacturing process causes an allergic reaction.

If you are allergic to alum, 2-phenoxyethanol, yeast, thimerosal, mouse protein, gelatin, neomycin, streptomycin, polymyxin B, latex, chicken or eggs, be sure to tell your doctor. In some cases, there are alternative formulations for people with allergies.

If you are pregnant, you may not be able to have some vaccines. When you have a mild cold, it is fine to get vaccinated; but if you have a fever or are seriously ill, you may need to wait until you are healthy again.

People with cancer, a damaged immune system (e.g., HIV/AIDS) or who are on medications that affect the immune system should absolutely receive some vaccinations, but there are others they should not have.

Be sure to bring up the subject of allergies and health conditions when you call to make your vaccination appointment.

Rolling up your sleeve for vaccines is not easy for some. My husband hates shots, but he gets his flu shot every fall and updates other vaccines before we travel.

You can make it easier by relaxing your arm at the time of the vaccine and then using an ice pack on it that night. It only hurts for a moment – but some of these diseases can hurt a lot longer than that.

Dr. Alisa Hideg is a family medicine physician at Group Health’s Veradale Medical Center in Spokane. Her column appears every other Tuesday in the Today section. Send your questions and comments to drhideg@ghc.org.
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