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House Calls / Dr. Michael Schwartz

Published 2:32 pm, Tuesday, May 14, 2013
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Immunizations or vaccinations are the mainstay of preventative health care. Regardless of age, vaccine administration has proven to decrease the incidence and severity of many serious illnesses. Contrary to common belief, vaccines are not just for children. There are many recommendations for adults as well.

Pneumovax is a vaccine which protects against 23 strains of streptococcus pneumonia. Streptococcus is responsible for serious lung, blood and brain infections. The vaccination decreases the chances of developing these diseases. One shot is recommended for adults 65 and older. However, this vaccination is often recommended for younger age groups if there are risk factors such as heart disease, cancer or a weakened immune system. In addition, the vaccine may be administered to anyone over the age or 19 if they have suffered from asthma or if they are an active smoker.

Zostavax is a vaccine which is approved to decrease the risk of developing shingles. Shingles is a painful skin rash from the reactivation of the chicken pox virus. It is estimated that more than 1 million people get shingles each year in the United States. The vaccination decreases the risk of developing shingles by 50 percent and decreases the severity of the infection for those that still get the disease. A single dose is recommended for individuals 60 and older. However, it is also approved for individuals 50 and older who have risk factors such as compromised immune systems.

Influenza, or the flu, is a very contagious virus transmitted from person to person by sneezing or coughing. Each year, millions of people develop the flu and the symptoms may be so severe, that hospitalization is required. There are many deaths associated with the disease, primarily in the elderly or in those with compromised immune systems. Since the influenza virus is always changing, a yearly vaccination for all ages is recommended (generally given in the fall). There are several ways to administer the vaccine including via injections and nasal sprays. In addition, recent studies have shown that even those with egg allergies can now receive the injection. Patients can discuss the best vaccination with their physicians.

DTaP/Tdor Diphtheria, Tetanus, Pertussis is a vaccine containing protection against three different bacterial diseases. Diphtheria is an infection resulting in high fevers, cough, sore throat and breathing difficulties. Tetanus ("lockjaw") results in severe muscle spasms. Pertussis (whooping cough) leads to severe coughing and shortness of breath. A Td booster is recommended every 10 years. However, a one-time DTaP is now recommended for most age groups, and especially for individuals who anticipate close contact with a new born. It is also recommended for pregnant patients.

MMR is vaccine which conveys immunity against three specific viral infections: Measles; mumps; and German measles. The immunization is generally given in two doses to children (at 1 year old and at 4 years old). However, anyone born after 1956 should receive an additional MMR immunization to confer better immunity to these diseases.

Hepatitis A is a viral infection which is transmitted by contaminated food or water. Symptoms include abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and jaundice (turning yellow). Adults may receive a two-dose series to protect them against the disease.

Hepatitis B is a viral infection spread by blood or body fluids including sharing of needles when injecting drugs, oral contact with contaminated items of infected individuals and unprotected sex with someone infected with the virus. Since 1988, most children have received a three shot immunization against the virus. However, many older individuals born prior to 1988 have not. It is recommended for all individuals and especially those at high risk (health care workers, sexually active individuals with more than one sex partner, those with close contact with infected individuals and those who engage in other high risk behavior). The vaccination is a three-shot series.

HPV (human papilloma virus) is a sexually transmitted virus which can cause cervical cancer in women. It is recommended that all women between the ages of 19 and 26 receive a three-shot series. In addition, men can also reduce their risk of acquiring and spreading the disease to their partners by also receiving three-dose vaccinations between the ages of 22 and 26. The vaccine has been given to patients as young as 9 and older adults to reduce their risk as well.

Meningococcal is a bacterial infection responsible for meningitis. Several thousands of people contract this disease annually and unfortunately it has proven to be fatal for 10 to 15 percent of those patients, despite aggressive treatment. The vaccine is recommended at the age of 11 with a booster at age 16. The vaccine can be administered to any adult age group, but depending on age, different types of vaccines are recommended. Unfortunately, the vaccine cannot prevent all strains of this deadly disease.

Depending on age, risk factors and/or travel plans, many additional vaccinations are available to prevent diseases. Obviously, there are some potential side effects with all immunizations as well as some contraindications to those wishing to have these vaccines based of medical history, current medications or immune status. Discuss these concerns with your physician. Vaccines save lives -- get a shot and stay healthy.

Dr. Michael Schwartz is board certified in internal medicine with a private practice in Darien. For comments or questions, please visit his web site at www.drmichaelbschwartz.com.