AUGUST IS NATIONAL VACCINE AWARENESS MONTH
August is National Vaccine Awareness Month. A time to increase your awareness of vaccine-preventable diseases, and to talk to a health care provider about which immunizations are recommended for you. For adults with existing chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, or COPD, being fully vaccinated can be lifesaving.
Vaccines work by teaching your body to recognize viruses and be ready to fight them when you are exposed. They help to prevent you from contracting the disease and reduce the severity if you acquire it.
Routine childhood vaccines have been in place since the 1950s and 60s. Consequently, diseases like polio, mumps, and measles have virtually become nonexistent in the United States. However, these diseases continue to exist in other countries, and unvaccinated people can still acquire them when traveling.
Vaccines have helped to reduce the spread of serious communicable diseases. In this article, we will look at 5 of the many vaccines available and recommended by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
Shingles is a disease that causes a painful skin rash and blisters on the body. Most commonly it is seen on the trunk however it can also occur on the head, face, and eyes. The skin rash usually clears within 2-4 weeks, however, the pain may linger. For some, it becomes chronic and is called postherpetic neuralgia. Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chicken pox. The chickenpox vaccine was not added to routine childhood immunizations until 1995, therefore most adults have had the disease, and have the dormant virus in their body.
Stress or a weakened immune system are two theories as to why the dormant virus becomes activated. Some evidence suggests people with diabetes are at a higher risk of developing shingles and are more likely to suffer from postherpetic neuralgia. Scientists have also suggested that reduced immunity in people with heart disease puts them at a higher risk for developing the disease.
The risk of getting shingles increases with age, and the vaccine is the only known preventative. The CDC recommends adults over age 50 get 2 doses of the vaccine. It is contraindicated, however, for those who have had a previous allergic reaction to the vaccine, those who currently have shingles, or who are pregnant.
Pneumonia is a lung disease that can cause difficulty breathing, as well as, chest pain, coughing, and fever. It can originate from the same viruses or bacteria that produce colds and flu, or from fungi in the air. Children, as well as adults, can contract pneumonia. Those at the highest risk are infants and adults over 65 years of age. Interventions to alleviate the symptoms of pneumonia include controlling fever, staying hydrated, and getting sufficient rest. In severe cases, hospitalization may be needed.
Adults with chronic conditions such as heart disease, COPD, and asthma, are at a higher risk of developing pneumonia and are more likely to suffer from serious complications. Because of their weakened immune systems, the CDC reports that those with diabetes are 3x more likely to die from pneumonia and flu than those without diabetes. Others at high risk are smokers and those living or working in environments with dangerous levels of air pollution or toxic fumes.
The CDC recommends adults over the age of 65 receive pneumonia or pneumococcal vaccines, as well as those aged 19-64 with underlying conditions. There are two types of the vaccine available with the type, dose, and interval between doses dependent on one’s age and underlying conditions. The CDC recommends infants receive a pneumococcal vaccine at 2, 4, 6, and 12 months unless contraindicated.
Flu or influenza is a respiratory illness that affects the nose and throat. It is spread by droplets when an infected person talks, coughs or sneezes in close proximity to others. Symptoms are similar to but more severe than the common cold ailments of coughs, sneezes, and a runny nose. Those suffering from the flu often also have a fever, chills, body aches, and fatigue.
Anyone can come down with the flu. However, adults over the age of 65 and children under 2 are most likely to develop flu-related complications such as pneumonia, or ear and sinus infections. More serious cases can progress to inflammation of the heart, brain, or muscle tissue and in extreme cases to sepsis and death. Flu can also worsen chronic conditions such as asthma and heart disease.
The CDC recommends everyone over the age of 6 months, get an annual flu vaccine in September or October, ahead of the flu season. The effectiveness of the vaccine varies each year, depending on the individual and how well the vaccine ‘matches’ the flu viruses spreading in the community. People with egg allergies should talk to their health care provider before getting the flu vaccine.
HEPATITIS A AND B
There are 6 types of hepatitis. Each is caused by a different virus, but all lead to inflammation of the liver and result in serious illness. Hepatitis A and B are the two main types. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, fever, body rash, and dark-colored urine. In advanced cases, jaundice or yellowing of the skin and eyes may appear.
Hepatitis A can be contracted by eating or drinking contaminated food or water. Hepatitis B is transmitted by coming into contact with bodily fluids of an infected person, such as blood, saliva, and semen. Symptoms usually subside within a few weeks, however, in some cases, symptoms can be lifelong and lead to serious liver problems such as cirrhosis, liver cancer, and liver failure.
There is no cure for hepatitis and supportive care is directed at symptom relief. To protect against these viruses, the CDC recommends the Hepatitis A and B vaccines for all children, with the first of three doses given at birth. It is also recommended that all unvaccinated adults over the age of 19 be vaccinated. High risk individuals include those who share needles, live with someone who is infected, work in healthcare, travel to countries where hepatitis is common, or have chronic liver disease
Covid 19 is an infectious disease caused by the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) virus. It is easily transmittable from person to person via droplets expelled when talking, sneezing, or coughing. Symptoms range from a mild cold and cough to very serious lung infections to death. Older adults with co-existing conditions such as diabetes, COPD, heart disease, or cancer are at a higher risk of becoming seriously ill from Covid 19.
The CDC recommends all adults and children over the age of 6 months receive the Covid 19 vaccine. Booster shots are also recommended, to improve immunity and stop the spread of the disease. One booster is suggested for anyone over the age of 5 and two boosters for adults ages 50 and over.
Research is ongoing and scientists continue to monitor variants of the virus, as well as develop treatments and study the long-term effects of this novel virus.
Safeguard your health by making sure you are protected against diseases for which a vaccine is available. By doing so, you are not only protecting yourself but also your family and members of the community. Communicable diseases can spread rapidly and have a huge impact on our lives, as we have seen with the recent pandemic, with long-lasting effects still unknown.
Talk to your health care provider about which vaccines are recommended for you and your family. Get and keep your immunizations up to date. For more information, visit the CDC website, cdc.gov.