Shots, or immunizations,
are not just for infants and children. Adults also need to be vaccinated
from time to time to be protected against serious infectious diseases.
In fact, some shots are more important for adults than for children. Every
year, thousands of older people die needlessly.
The Public Health
Service strongly encourages older adults to be immunized against influenza,
pneumococcal disease (especially pneumonia), tetanus, and diphtheria.
Usually called the
flu, influenza is a highly contagious disease that causes a variety of
symptoms, including fever, aches and pains, sore throat, runny nose, and
chills. When older people get the flu, they are more likely to get pneumonia,
lose water (dehydration), or lose weight.
A new flu vaccine
is made each year because the influenza virus tends to change each flu
season. For this reason, it is necessary to get a yearly flu shot. To
give your body time to build the proper defense, it is important to get
a flu shot by mid-November, before the flu season usually starts.
Although side effects
from flu shots are slight for most people, there may be a brief, low-grade
fever and some minor aches and pains. According to the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention, recent flu vaccines have not caused serious side
In addition to the
flu shot, two anti-viral drugs--amantadine and rimantadine--can prevent
or lessen infection by certain flu strains. These drugs can be used by
people who never had the flu vaccine or as extra protection by those who
have been immunized. They can be taken soon after the early signs of flu
are felt. While they donít actually prevent infection, they can reduce
fever and other flu symptoms.
can cause a number of infections, including those affecting the lungs
(pneumonia), the blood (bacteremia), or the covering of the brain (meningitis).
Older people are two to three times more likely than younger people to
suffer from pneumococcal disease. It can be much more severe in older
Tetanus and Diptheria
Most people have been
immunized against tetanus (sometimes called lockjaw) and diphtheria (a
bacterial disease affecting the throat and windpipe). A booster shot is
needed every 10 years to keep you protected from these rare but dangerous
illnesses. During everyday activities (such as gardening or outside recreation),
the tetanus bacteria can enter a break in the skin and cause infection.
It is important to have a booster shot if you have a severe cut or puncture
In most cases, the
tetanus shot also includes the diphtheria vaccine. The immunity for diphtheria
also lasts 10 years. The side effects of this shot are minor (soreness
and a slight fever). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests
the use of mid-decade (e.g., 45, 55, etc.) birthdays as regular dates
to review adult immunizations.
The Public Health
Service also recommends certain people at risk be vaccinated against measles,
mumps, rubella, and hepatitis B. Adults at risk include those who work
on college campuses, at vocational training centers, and in the health
care field. Ask your doctor or local health department if you need to
have these shots.
If you are planning
to travel abroad, check with your doctor or local health department about
shots that may be required or highly recommended. Since some immunizations
involve a series of shots, it is best to arrange to get them within 6
months of your trip.
Keeping a Shot
It is helpful to keep
a personal immunization record with the types and dates of shots you have
received, as well as any side effects or problems that you had. The medical
record in your doctorís office should also be kept up-to-date.
Widespread use of
vaccines can reduce the risk of developing a number of contagious diseases
that seriously affect older people. You can protect yourself against these
illnesses by including vaccinations as part of your regular health care.
For a free copy of
the booklet Immunization of Adults: A Call to Action, contact:
Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention
National Immunization Program
1600 Clifton Road
Atlanta, GA 30333
For a free copy of
the booklet Flu, contact:
of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
9000 Rockville Pike
Bethesda, MD 20892