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4 Lifesaving Vaccines Adults Need

4 lifesaving shots you might be missing.

WebMD Feature from "Redbook" Magazine

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Kids aren't the only ones who should go in for their immunizations. We grown-ups require vaccines and booster shots too, but many of us aren't getting them. In fact, about 50,000 American adults die every year from vaccine-preventable diseases, says the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases — primarily the flu. Read on to find out if you should go in for one of these vaccines now.

1. Flu vaccine

  • What it does: Prevents influenza, the highly contagious respiratory illness that each year makes up to 20 percent of us suffer fever, aches, sore throat, runny nose, and nausea — and causes an estimated 36,000 deaths annually. This season there could be two separate shots: the regular flu vaccine, out this month, and one for H1N1 virus ("swine flu"), which, if distributed, will be available later in the year. For flu updates, visit the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website: cdc.gov/flu.
  • Who should get it: The CDC encourages everyone 6 months and older to receive the shot. But certain people at high risk for flu complications absolutely must get vaccinated: children ages 6 months to 19 years, pregnant women, people 50 and older, anyone with certain chronic medical conditions, health-care workers, and people who live with or care for anyone else on this list.
  • How often: Once a year between September and February — the sooner, the better. If a swine flu shot comes out, get both vaccines for full protection.

2. Hepatitis B vaccine

  • What it does: Protects against hepatitis B, a life-threatening disease that attacks the liver and can cause jaundice, liver cancer, and liver failure.
  • Who should get it: Everyone, especially sexually active adults who are not in a long-term, monogamous relationship with a person who's hep B-free. It's standard practice for every child to receive the vaccine at routine checkups — but only since 1991. Unfortunately, this means that many people who need it have not been immunized, and many don't realize that hep B is transmitted sexually. (It can also be spread by sharing needles and from mother to baby during delivery.) "It's the least-known vaccine by doctors and the public," says William Schaffner, M.D., president-elect of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases — but it's one of the most necessary if you're sexually active.
  • How often: Three shots administered within a six-month period, taken once in a lifetime.

3. HPV vaccine

  • What it does: Reduces a woman's risk of developing cervical cancer and genital warts by 70 to 80 percent by protecting against four strains of genital human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted virus.
  • Who should get it: The vaccine is approved and covered by many insurers for females between ages 9 and 26, since girls and women this age are less likely to have already been infected by the virus; the shot can only prevent — not treat — HPV. But there may be good reason for sexually active women over 26 to pay for the immunization. (The cost varies but is often $150 to $200, plus an administration fee.) Even if you already have HPV, for instance, getting vaccinated may prevent infection from more serious, possibly deadly strains with more crippling symptoms. Talk to your gynecologist to determine if the vaccine makes sense for you.
  • How often: Three shots administered over a six-month period provide long-lasting immunity. (Research is underway to determine if a later booster shot is necessary.)

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