August is National Immunization Awareness Month and this is a good time to remind seniors that not all vaccines are for children. In fact, every year many seniors suffer needlessly with diseases like shingles, flu, pneumonia or hepatitis that could have been avoided had they received vaccinations.
All adults who had chicken pox as a child are in danger of contracting shingles as they age. Even after a child has recuperated from chicken pox, the chicken pox virus never leaves their body, but goes into a dormant stage somewhere near the spinal cord. For some reason, possibly a lowering of the immune system due to aging, the virus erupts again, but into a different disease called shingles, which is usually for more serious than the childhood chicken pox. The greatest risk for shingles is aging and the risk increases with age.
Shingles can last for weeks, months and even years, as some seniors will be left with permanent pain called post herpetic neuralgia. Shingles usually has a peculiar looking rash, usually on one side of the body, which causes neurological pain and later itching. Some people can go blind from shingles if it breaks out in the eye. The shingles vaccine is recommended for all adults over the age of 60. To learn more about shingles check out this video from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
While the influenza vaccine is not 100% protective, even if it does not stop the flu, it usually leads to a milder case of the flu. However, every year, especially in the winter seniors die from flu complications like pneumonia and in most cases they had not bothered to get the flu shot. It is especially important for seniors suffering from chronic diseases like asthma, diabetes, heart disease or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) to be protected against the flu. Seniors with egg allergy or who suffered in the past from egg allergy should consult with their doctor about the flu vaccine, as it is still made from some egg protein. Your doctor may send you to have the vaccine in an out-patient allergy clinic of a hospital.
The pneumoccal vaccine targets a particular type of air-borne bacteria that can sometimes lead to a dangerous kind of pneumonia in small children and the elderly. All adults over the age of 65 should get this vaccine which is given in two different injections.
Many seniors do not realize that they need a booster for diphtheria and tetanus every 10 years. Tetanus, commonly referred to as lock-jaw, is a disease caused by bacteria that live in the ground and tetanus can be caused by common injuries, especially deep puncture wounds or animal bites. Gardeners and people who work with animals should make sure to keep their boosters up-to-date. Tetanus is a disease of excruciating painful muscle spasms, especially in the jaw. It can be treated with antibiotics in the hospital, but in this case “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Better to have a shot than to suffer the pain of tetanus. Diphtheria, a serious lung disease, which at one time appeared to be going extinct, due to widespread vaccination of children, is making a comeback.
Adults who were born after 1957 and who were never vaccinated or who never had measles, mumps or rubella should have the vaccine. If you are not sure whether or not you had these diseases, you can have a blood test to check for immunity.
Seniors who do not recall contracting hepatitis A or B that are viral diseases and who were not vaccinated for hepatitis should check with their doctor whether or not they should get the vaccine. The vaccine for hepatitis A is recommended for people who have chronic liver disease. Hepatitis can be much more serious in the elderly, so it pays to be protected. Seniors with diabetes, chronic kidney disease, chronic liver disease or a weakened immune system should also be vaccinated for Hepatitis B. A simple blood test can show whether or not a person has been exposed to hepatitis viruses and has acquired immunity.
It is especially important for seniors going into a short or long-term skilled nursing and rehabilitation residential facility to be vaccinated for these diseases, especially for hepatitis A, as it is easier to pick it up in a place that has a lot of people living together under the same roof.
Vaccines are such an easy way to avoid a lot of suffering, so make sure you or your loved one are up-to-date with your vaccinations.
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