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One of the tasks parents do in preparation for their children going back to school is to get their child’s vaccinations up to date. This also can serve as a reminder to make sure you are up to date with your own vaccinations. There are several vaccinations that are recommended for adults, and by getting them, you can minimize or prevent many potential illnesses such as the flu, pneumonia, hepatitis, tetanus, meningitis and shingles. Factors such as your age, occupation, travel and health problems dictate what shots you need. Since an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, make sure to discuss the following vaccines and others with your physician today.

Should you get a flu (influenza) shot?

The simple answer to this question is – if you want to reduce the likelihood of becoming ill with influenza then you should get the shot. The only people who absolutely should not get a flu shot are people who are allergic to eggs or people who have had a previous allergic reaction to the shot. (Some patients might feel a little feverish or achy after receiving the vaccine. These symptoms are the result of your immune system becoming activated by the vaccine and should not be confused with an allergic reaction). The vaccine is strongly recommended for people older than 50 and people with heart disease, diabetes, lung disease and/or kidney disease. It is also important for healthcare workers, nursing home workers and people who live in dormitories to receive the shot.

What is a pneumonia vaccine?

Many different pathogens can cause pneumonia. While it isn’t possible to completely prevent the illness, there is a vaccine that can reduce your risk of becoming infected with a bacteria called streptococcus pneumoniae, which is a very common cause of pneumonia. The vaccine is recommended for people older than 65. It is also recommended for people under 65 who have a chronic illness such as diabetes, sickle cell anemia, HIV, malignancies, and heart, lung and/or liver disease. For patients who receive this vaccine before the age of 65, a repeat vaccination is recommended after five years. Those older than 65 who get a pneumonia vaccine do not require a second vaccination.

Is there a vaccine for shingles?

Shingles is characterized by painful vesicles in a band pattern on one side of the body. It is caused by the reactivation of the chicken pox virus, which lies dormant in our nerves after a chicken pox infection. As we age or become ill, our immunity to the virus declines and we become at risk for having an outbreak of shingles. The vaccine is recommended for people older than 60 who wish to reduce the risk of getting shingles. The vaccine is not recommended for people who are allergic to neomycin, people who have HIV, and people with certain malignancies such as lymphoma or leukemia.

Who should get a meningococcal vaccine?

This vaccine gives you immunity to a bacteria that causes a life-threatening form of meningitis. This bacteria infects about 2,600 people a year in the United States and 10 percent to 15 percent of those infected people die. Those most likely to be infected are children a year old or younger, people who have had their spleen removed, and college freshmen living in dormitories. The vaccine is recommended for all children between 11 and 12 years old. Children who were not vaccinated prior to high school should receive the shot upon starting high school. Military recruits and college freshmen living in dormitories also should receive the vaccine.

There are many other vaccines available for adults. Discussing them with your physician can help determine if your job, travel plans or health problems put you at risk for a potentially preventable disease.

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