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Vaccines are not just for kids. Adults have the power to protect themselves and their family against serious diseases, such as whooping cough, shingles and pneumonia through on-time vaccination.
Diseases have been around since the dawn of civilization. For example, the 3,000-year-old mummy of Ancient Egypt’s Pharaoh Ramses V contained traces of smallpox. Fast forward a few millennia, to 1798 when Edward Jenner, an English physician and scientist, laid the foundation for modern immunology when he developed the first vaccine for smallpox. One hundred eighty years later, smallpox was declared eradicated globally, thanks to vaccination that stopped the spread of the disease.
Since diseases are generally unintentionally spread person-to-person, patients with chronic health conditions need to be up to date on recommended vaccinations since they are at increased risk for complications from certain vaccine-preventable diseases, such as the flu and shingles.
Every year thousands of adults in the U.S. become seriously ill and are hospitalized because of diseases that vaccines can help prevent. Many adults even die from these diseases. For example, one in every three adults will get shingles, which is the same virus that causes chickenpox in children. Those at risk for shingles are adults who had chickenpox and risk only increases with age. Doctors do not know what causes the virus to reactivate in adults.
Vaccines work with your body’s natural defenses—the immune system—to help safely develop protection from diseases. They help create immunity by mimicking an infection that causes the body to react and create antibodies. The CDC has a detailed How Vaccines Work explainer.
For those with certain medical conditions, the body is already compromised so vaccines are important to maintain good health. Top conditions include:
- Cardiovascular disease-patients with heart disease or who have had any kind of stroke are at higher risk for contracting other diseases. Heart and cardiovascular disease make it harder for the body to fight off germs and increases the risk of complications if the patient comes down with a disease.
Patients with heart disease have a six times higher risk of having a heart attack the first week after flu diagnosis, according to a New England Journal of Medicine study.
The CDC recommends the following vaccines for these patients:
- Diabetes (Type 1 and Type 2)-diabetic patients are at risk for serious complications from illnesses. For example, the flu can raise glucose to dangerously high levels or if a patient doesn’t feel like eating because they don’t feel well, sugars can drop.
Diabetics are at higher risk of accidentally contracting hepatitis B and increased risk of death from pneumonia, blood infections and meningitis.
The CDC recommends the following vaccines for all diabetics:
- Hep B
- COPD, Asthma and Lung Disease-the 20 million American patients with these conditions are highly likely to have complications from common illnesses because of how COPD and asthma cause the airway to swell and retain mucus.
Pneumonia was associated with more than 1.1 million inpatient hospitalizations and 50,000 deaths in patients over 65 years of age, according to a report from the National Institutes of Health. Pneumonia patients with COPD are likely to have more severe pneumonia, an increased number of hospital admissions, and worse outcomes when compared to patients without COPD. Patients have 16 times the risk for pneumonia compared to those without COPD within the first year after a COPD diagnosis.
The CDC recommends the following vaccines for lung disease patients:
Patients with immunocompromising diseases such as cancer, arthritic conditions, renal disease, liver disease or asplenia should discuss what vaccines would be recommended to stay as healthy as possible with their doctor or medical professional.
Even if you received the vaccines you needed as a child, the protection from some vaccines can wear off.
Your annual checkup is a good time to discuss vaccines you may need for your age, health conditions, job, or lifestyle. Family and informal caregivers may need to consider vaccines for themselves to reduce the chances of inadvertent transmission.
Vaccines are available at doctor offices, as well as other convenient locations, such as pharmacies, workplaces, community health clinics, and health departments. To learn more the CDC’s Interactive Vaccine Guide provides information on recommended vaccines.
August is National Immunization Awareness Month (NIAM). This annual observance highlights the importance of getting recommended vaccines throughout your life.
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