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October 4, 2001


Seasonal Flu Vaccinations May Not Be Enough For Adults

Adults Should Immunize Against Other Vaccine-Preventable Diseases

School has started and children have their required immunizations. Now many adults are gearing up to receive their annual flu vaccine. But it's just as important for adults to make sure they have complete and updated immunization records for other preventable diseases, says Emory University physician Sharon Horesh. The National Coalition for Adult Immunization reports that more than 30,000 adults in the United States die from vaccine-preventable diseases or their complications each year.

"Immunization efforts are mainly focused on children," Dr. Horesh says. "Consequently, adults older than age 20 represent the majority of cases of some preventable diseases."

Adults don't outgrow the need for immunizations. And despite popular belief, childhood vaccines don't protect you for a lifetime, Dr. Horesh notes.

Common adult vaccines include influenza, tetanus, diphtheria, rubella, chicken pox, hepatitis B and pneumococcal disease:
  • Seasonal flu vaccines are given every year because the flu virus changes yearly. The best time to be immunized is between October and November to provide protection during the December to March flu season.
  • A Td booster combination shot protects against both tetanus and diphtheria. Adults who have never received a tetanus vaccination or have not had a Td booster shot in the last 10 years should be vaccinated.
  • As many as 8 million women of childbearing age are susceptible to rubella. Women who are planning pregnancy should wait to conceive at least three months after being vaccinated. Women already pregnant should wait until after the baby is born to be vaccinated. German measles, as it is often called, can cause serious birth defects or a miscarriage if a pregnant woman contracts it during the first trimester. A combination MMR vaccine protects against measles, mumps and rubella.
  • Although chicken pox is often considered a childhood disease, adults are 10 times more likely to develop severe complications when infected with the virus. One in 50 adults who develops chickenpox is hospitalized, usually due to bacterial infections, pneumonia or brain inflammation.
  • The hepatitis B virus is transmitted in similar ways as HIV, but is 100 times more infectious. The virus can be transmitted through sexual contact, needle sharing, or from mother to infant during birth. It infects the liver and can lead to liver disease, liver cancer and death in many cases. The hepatitis B vaccine is especially recommended for adults in high-risk groups, including healthcare workers, public safety workers or those with multiple sex partners.
  • When pneumococcal disease invades the lungs it can cause pneumonia, and when it attacks the tissues and fluids surrounding the brain and spinal cord it causes meningitis. Pneumococcal disease causes up to 12,500 deaths each year in the United States, but almost 50% of the deaths can be prevented through vaccination.

    "Health care providers can help adults stay updated on their immunizations," Dr. Horesh suggested. "But it's up to the individual to keep a permanent immunization record."

    The date of the last vaccination, age, medical conditions, genetics, specific exposures and the type of job are all determining factors for an adult's vaccination needs.


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