Vaccines for adults

October 16, 2014 By Neil Wasserman, M.D., internist

Vaccinations are sometimes thought to be only necessary for infants and children. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends certain immunizations for adults to protect them against specific diseases – some that can be life threatening.

Physicians determine the vaccines that individuals may need based on a variety of factors: age, health, job, lifestyle, international travel, previous vaccinations.

For instance, the CDC recommends an annual influenza vaccine, and to prevent against whooping cough, a one-time Tdap vaccine if it was never received. A Td booster, which protects against tetanus and diphtheria, is suggested for every 10 years. These vaccines may also be recommended:

• Varicella (chickenpox)
• Zoster (shingles)
• Human papillomavirus (HPV)
• Hepatitis
• Meningococcal
• Pneumococcal
• Measles/mumps/rubella

Chickenpox, usually considered a childhood disease, can be far more serious in adults. For those people exposed to the varicella virus, complications can lead to hospitalization and even death. Shingles – a painful condition – is also caused by this virus.

HPV vaccines can protect against cervical cancers in females, certain throat cancers in males and genital warts in both sexes.

There are several types of hepatitis and the virus can be contracted from contaminated food or water, unprotected sex, sharing hypodermic needles or exposure to the bodily fluids of an infected individual.

People planning international travel should also check with a physician as the CDC sometimes requires specific immunizations that should be received approximately four to six weeks before departure.

Adult pneumonia vaccine can protect against severe and potentially fatal results from pneumonia, meningitis and bloodstream infections. This vaccination is recommended especially for people with specific conditions such as asthma, compromised immune system or chronic illness. An estimated 50,000 adults die each year from pneumococcal pneumonia.

MMR vaccine protects against three childhood diseases: measles, mumps and rubella, which can strike adults with greater severity. Rubella can be particularly serious for pregnant women possibly leading to miscarriage, severe birth defects and premature delivery.

Physicians can decide which vaccines are best and when they should be administered. Being unvaccinated not only puts an individual at risk but can also endanger others.

Internist Neil Wasserman, M.D., is a member of The Hospital of Central Connecticut (HOCC) medical staff. He practices at Grove Hill Medical Center, 300 Kensington Ave., New Britain (860.832.8150).