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Not Just for Kids: 5 Vaccinations Adults Need

Most adults have at least a faint recollection of childhood immunizations. However, vaccines aren’t just for kids. Read on to discover five important vaccinations for adults, and listen to our related podcast to learn even more.

Dr. Steven D. O’Marro, an expert on infectious diseases at Springfield Clinic in Springfield, Illinois, explains the importance of vaccines. “All of these vaccines represent preventable illnesses,” he notes. “The major advances in medicine that have occurred, that have resulted in improved life expectancy, all relate to many of these vaccines that have been developed. If you look at the Social Security Act that was passed in the 1930s under Franklin Roosevelt, the average life expectancy was somewhere around 50 to 60 years. With the introduction of vaccines and antibiotics, we have seen life expectancy into the 70s and 80s.”

Here are five vaccines adults should be getting—and when they should get them.

Influenza

The annual flu vaccine is developed by researching which influenza strains are likely to affect the population that year. Dr. O’Marro points out that this seasonal vaccine reduces the risk of dying substantially, relative to people who have not had the shot. If a patient does develop the flu and has been vaccinated, they’re less likely to have severe complications.

Dr. O’Marro explains how this vaccine significantly protects older adults. “Influenza behaves kind of like an ice storm in Springfield. It can knock down weak branches, especially with our older adults who have something called age-related immune deficiency and can’t really protect themselves against influenza.”

Tetanus, Diphtheria and Pertussis

This combination vaccine covers three different diseases. Dr. O’Marro explains each, along with their unpleasant symptoms.

“Tetanus is caused by a bacterium found in the soil and once it enters the body, it releases a toxin. The toxin has extreme toxicity at very low concentrations. It can cause muscle spasms and eventually death if untreated, as a consequence of respiratory insufficiency.”

“Diphtheria is a disease that we don’t see very often anymore, but it is still present in the third world. It is a respiratory disease that causes breathing problems and can cause paralysis, heart failure, and death by its ability to link up and interfere with certain types of cellular metabolism. It’s highly contagious, spread by coughing and sneezing.”

“Pertussis is a vaccine to prevent something called whooping cough, which produces significant coughing spasms and significant illness—even coughing significant enough to break ribs in some people who get this illness.”

Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)

HPV is transferred by sexual contact and is linked to genital cancers. The vaccine is important for young women and men who are in their teens to mid-20s. “It is one of the initial vaccines intended to reduce the risk of cancer,” adds Dr. O’Marro.

Pneumonia

Unlike the other vaccines listed, Dr. O’Marro points out that pneumonia vaccines are administered as a consequence of either immune responses or of coincident illnesses such as congestive heart failure or obstructive lung disease. This vaccine reduces risk of sinus infections and pneumonia-related complications.

Shingles

Not only does herpes zoster, commonly known as chicken pox, leave physical scarring in its wake, but it can also make its mark in the genetic code. When shingles develops, it can damage the nerves, eyes or face. “We now have a vaccine [for shingles] that is much like the current influenza vaccine,” Dr. O’Marro shares. “It causes a reaction to the virus that results in an improved immune response and significantly reduces risk of getting shingles.”

Speak to your physician about these vaccines to determine which you may need.

“If you refuse to take advantage of the advances in infectious disease and a prolonged life expectancy,” Dr. O’Marro cautions, “then you really put yourself into the life expectancy tables of the 1930s, and that’s unfortunate.”

Interested in learning more about immunizations? To listen to the full interview with Dr. O’Marro on our podcast, click here.

Want even more information? Check out these additional resources:

  • Listen to this podcast by our partners at Riverside Healthcare to learn more about the importance of the HPV vaccine.
  • Why is the pneumonia vaccine such a lifesaver? Read this short article on OSF HealthCare’s blog.
  • Learn more about shingles on the Sarah Bush Lincoln Health System blog.
  • Read why it’s important to get the flu vaccine in this blog piece from Memorial Health System.
Dr. Steven D. O’Marro, infectious disease expert at Springfield Clinic

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