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Updating vaccinations not just for kids anymore

Perhaps you already have seen our cover story today about the summertime joys of running on the beach.

Perhaps you are gripping an icy beverage, trying to recover from the mere thought of such exertion.

If so, you will be glad to know that there is a way to protect your health with no more physical effort than it takes to roll up your sleeve:

Get your vaccinations updated. Not just for the kids — adults, too.

I thought about this the other week when I emailed a friend in Tampa to see if she could get together for coffee.

Sorry, she replied. I've got whooping cough.

Not the sort of response one gets every day, but I shouldn't have been all that surprised.

Also known as pertussis, this is a highly infectious disease that we didn't hear much about for a long time, since the vaccine most kids had been receiving since the 1940s had pretty well knocked it out.

But it's been back for a few years now. In the bay area, Hillsborough County has been particularly affected, with 63 cases reported since January. That's almost triple the number of cases during the same period last year.

Most adults who get it (like my friend) feel lousy for a time, but recover nicely. Many probably don't even know they have anything worse than a nagging cough.

But whooping cough can be deadly to babies too young to receive the vaccine. The infection also is particularly dangerous to the elderly and people with compromised immune systems.

Why is whooping cough back? While many of us think our childhood vaccines should carry us for life, that's not the case. Pertussis immunity fades, and needs to be boosted every 10 years.

Plus, some parents are refusing or delaying vaccines for their kids — despite the fact that those old rumors of a link with autism have been thoroughly disproved.

So a nasty bug is finding plenty of ways to move around.

Fortunately, one Tdap shot protects against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis. I got mine a couple of years ago during a routine checkup. It's no big deal, I promise.

There's even an online quiz to help you figure out which immunizations you need, according to your age, health history and travel plans. Just go to cdc.gov, and type "vaccine quiz'' in the search field. Seven simple questions later, I had a list of four: Tdap, MMR (measles, mumps, rubella), a pneumonia vaccine and a flu shot. I'm current on them all.

Come to think of it, since I've been getting these shots, the respiratory infections that used to plague me have become a thing of the past. Coincidence? Maybe, but I would much rather get a shot in the arm than weeks of illness and a few rounds of antibiotics.

And I'd rather have many shots in the arm than transmit an illness to someone who might not be able to fight it off.

If you have health insurance, it may cover the costs. If not, call your county health department. They'll give the shot free to children under 19 — and it's required to enroll in public school. Last week, the Hillsborough health department was charging $56 for an adult Tdap shot.

Even in tough times, that's an amazing deal, especially given all that is at stake.

Charlotte Sutton I Health and medicine editor

Terry Tomalin I Outdoors/fitness editor

Jan Brackett I Designer

Leah Millis I Cover photo

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Updating vaccinations not just for kids anymore

07/13/12 [Last modified: Friday, July 13, 2012 5:30am]
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