Q: My kids get their vaccinations - what about me?
A: Back-to-school time doesn't just mean immunizations for the children. It is just as important that adults be up to date on all their necessary shots. Here's a summary of the different vaccines to consider.
• Flu vaccine: This shot protects against influenza, a serious viral infection that affects many Americans each year. Anyone who wants to reduce his or her chance of getting the flu can be vaccinated. It is recommended that everyone over the age of 50, as well as those younger than 50 with heart disease, lung disease, hypertension or diabetes, receive the shot. This vaccine is also recommended for pregnant women in their second or third trimesters during the flu season, which can begin as early as October and last as late as May. This vaccine needs to be administered annually, preferably in October or November. Also available is a nasal spray vaccine that is approved for use in healthy people between the ages of 5 and 49 who are not pregnant.
• Tdap vaccine: This is a vaccine to protect against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis. The pertussis component was recently added to the vaccine after a reemergence of whooping cough. Many people erroneously believe tetanus can only be acquired from rusty nails. In actuality, tetanus is all around us and can contaminate any skin wound. This vaccine is recommended for adults and children because everyone is at risk. A booster is required every 10 years.
• Pneumococcal vaccine: This vaccine protects against 23 types of pneumococcal bacteria that can lead to pneumonia, blood-stream infections and meningitis. A shot is recommended for everyone over the age of 65 and for those under 65 who have the same risk factors previously mentioned for the flu vaccine (except pregnant women). It usually offers protection for approximately five years.
• Hepatitis B vaccine: This one-time series of three shots protects against Hepatitis B, a virus transmitted through bodily fluids. Long-term infection can destroy the liver. People at risk include those whose occupations expose them to blood, such as health-care workers. The vaccine is now commonly given to all newborns.
• Hepatitis A vaccine: Hepatitis A is transmitted through contaminated food or water. The Hepatitis A vaccine is recommended for travelers and is often a good idea for those who eat at restaurants frequently. It is a series of two shots, given at least six months apart. This vaccination provides lifelong immunity.
Immunizations are for people of all ages. It is important to see a physician on a regular basis to determine which vaccines you may need. Ask your doctor questions about your health and lifestyle, with the goal of preventing health problems before they occur.
Caroline K. Stratz, M.D., is an internist in private practice near El Camino Hospital. Her practice focuses on "personalized" health care that emphasizes comprehensive medical histories and exams, health risk and lifestyle appraisals. For more information, call 988-9975.