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Adults should keep up-to-date on vaccinations

Most adults know they have to get their cholesterol and blood pressure checked regularly, exercise and keep their weight under control. Here's another essential: immunizations. While most parents keep their children's vaccines up to date, we aren't so good about shots for middle-age and older Americans. "When I see people in the clinic, they are pretty open to getting vaccines," says Dr. Hugo Navarte, assistant professor of internal medicine at USF Health, "but it's the ones who don't come in routinely, a huge uncaptured population whose health isn't their No. 1 priority, who need to be vaccinated." Some vaccines are needed just once in adulthood; others are needed more often. The rules are different for pregnant women or women who are trying to get pregnant. They should check with their doctors.

Recommended for most adults

INFLUENZA: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a universal recommendation for all Americans (age 6 months and older) to get the flu vaccine this year. There's a new high-dose vaccine for people age 65 and older, a group at high risk for serious flu-related complications. "Federal health officials will be watching to see if this higher dose of vaccine is effective in saving lives and reducing hospitalizations," says Margaret Ewen, immunization program manager for the Hillsborough County Health Department. All flu vaccine will protect against H1N1 influenza, so you won't need two shots.

When to get it: Annually, usually in the fall. International travelers should be vaccinated early, before leaving the country.

TETANUS: This one is known as Tdap and protects against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis or whooping cough. The tetanus and diphtheria (Td) vaccine is still available, but pertussis protection was added in 2005. Adults under age 65 who may come in close contact with an infant less than a year old (and really, that's just about everyone, since you never know when you'll meet a cute baby) need the whooping cough component, since young babies don't yet have their full immunizations.

However, the vaccine is not licensed for use in adults age 65 and older, so Ewen says that age group is offered the vaccine that covers only tetanus and diphtheria. Health care workers should also get the vaccination.

When to get it: Every 10 years.

PNEUMONIA: Pneumococcal disease kills one in every 20 people who get it, making pneumonia the nation's leading cause of vaccine-preventable illness and death, according to the CDC. The vaccine, known as PPSV, is highly recommended for adults age 65 and older, as well as for anyone younger than 65 with long-standing health problems such as heart disease, lung disease (including asthma), diabetes, kidney failure and HIV infection. Smokers, alcoholics, organ transplant patients and anyone who doesn't have a spleen should also have this vaccine.

When to get it: Only one dose is needed in adults over 65. If you received the vaccine before turning 65, another dose may be recommended in five years.

CHICKEN POX. If you've never had the disease (also known as varicella) or the vaccine you will need two doses. Adults considering a job in a health care field need to provide proof of vaccination or a blood test to confirm immunity. The vaccine may also be recommended for certain caregivers, students, military personnel and international travelers.

When to get it: At any time. Adults with no immunity need two doses.

SHINGLES: Also known as zoster or herpes zoster, it is caused by the same virus that gives us chicken pox. The shingles vaccine was licensed in 2006; much of the research and testing was done at the James A. Haley VA Medical Center in Tampa. If you've ever had chicken pox, you're at risk for shingles, a painful skin rash that can leave sufferers in severe pain that never goes away. "It's not a perfect vaccine," says Navarte, "but it cuts your risk of shingles in half. Unfortunately, there are no good guidelines on whether it works (to prevent another outbreak) if you've already had shingles."

When to get it: At age 60 and older. One dose is recommended.

Recommended for some adults

MEASLES, MUMPS AND RUBELLA (MMR): These highly contagious, serious diseases spread from person to person through the air. During pregnancy, they can cause miscarriage or birth defects. Adults returning to college or working in certain fields may need blood tests to prove they have had the vaccine or the diseases.

MENINGITIS: This bacterial disease can result in amputations and death. People up to age 55 will get the MCV4 vaccine; after age 55 you get MPSV4. Recommended if you don't have a spleen and for international travelers, the military, some college students and some people exposed to meningitis during an outbreak.

POLIO: It has been eradicated in the United States, but is still common in some parts of the world. Vaccination may be recommended for adults in certain laboratory research jobs, health care professions and travelers bound for destinations where polio persists.

HEPATITIS A AND B: Both may be recommended for international travelers as well as some gay men, IV drug users, people with certain chronic diseases of the liver or kidney, workers in certain health-related professions and some caregivers of people infected with hepatitis.

Irene Maher can be reached at or (813) 226-3416. For more medical news:

Take the quiz

For a short questionnaire to help you determine which vaccines you may need, go to and enter the words "vaccine quiz" in the search field. Talk to your doctor about which ones are right for you.

Adults should keep up-to-date on vaccinations 05/12/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 12, 2010 8:28pm]
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