I was just sewing up a patient’s lip when I asked about his last tetanus shot. He shrugged and mumbled something about childhood, which it turns out, is a pretty common response.
We worry about vaccinating our kids, but what about us? Vaccines prevent disease in big people too. With that in mind, here are the major ones you need to be sure are up to date:
Until recently, we knew adults needed protection from tetanus and diphtheria, but pertussis is mainly a childhood disease, so we didn’t vaccinate for it. Trouble is, it can be fatal to kids, and usually kids catch it from an infected adult. So this vaccine is a 3-in-1. You get great immunity from tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis with a single Tdap vaccination. This vaccine should be received every 10 years.
Flu vaccine is next in importance. There are more than 40,000 influenza deaths per winter in this country alone. This is a yearly vaccine and is another 3-in-1. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention and World Heath Organization closely monitor the various strains of influenza circulating around the world. They pick the three stains of flu most likely to hit the U.S. this winter and make a new vaccine against all three. Because there are different influenza strains every winter, you need a new flu shot every fall or early winter. The flu vaccine is recommended for almost everyone.
Pneumococcal pneumonia is still a very serious disease. This bacterial pneumonia was called “the old man’s friend” as it commonly caused death in the elderly. That’s no kind of friend I like. Pneumonia is most dangerous to those who have less robust heath due to age, disease or smoking. For that reason, this one-time vaccine is recommended for those over 65, people with heart or lung disease, or smokers.
Varicella vaccine – this is marketed as either the chicken pox or the shingles vaccine. It protects against both because both diseases are caused by the same virus. Because it is a herpes-type virus, the virus lies dormant in the nerves for decades after active infection. If your immunity against this virus goes down, the virus can travel down the nerves and cause painful blisters in one area of your body (shingles). This is another one-time vaccine, and most adults should consider receiving this.
Prevention is always easier than facing the disease. In many ways, children are stronger and healthier than the grown ups who take care of them because they get vaccinated. Give yourself the same chance, and take a minute to talk to your doctor about these vaccines.