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Adult Vaccines: Protect Yourself Against Tetanus and More

Get a Flu Shot While You Shop

The CDC and flu experts recommend that just about everyone get a flu vaccination every year. Why? Each year's vaccine is based on the three or four strains of influenza virus that are expected to be widespread that season. Short on time? No problem. Flu shots are available at supermarkets, pharmacies, schools, and churches, as well as doctors' offices. And you can get one anytime during flu season. How easy is that?

Tetanus Vaccine: Not Just for Kids

The bacteria that cause tetanus enter the body through wounds or cuts. Tetanus can lead to severe muscle spasms, stiffness, and lockjaw -- the inability to open your mouth or swallow. A one-time Tdap (tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis) vaccine and a Td (tetanus-diphtheria) booster every 10 years are all it takes to prevent it.

Stay Ahead of Chickenpox

If you've avoided chickenpox (varicella) so far, don't push your luck. You can still get it by being in a room with someone who has it. Adults with chickenpox have a higher risk of complications, hospitalization, and death. For example, varicella pneumonia may be more severe in pregnant women and is a medical emergency. Untreated, almost half of pregnant women with varicella pneumonia die. Since chickenpox puts you at risk for shingles, chickenpox vaccine may offer some protection against shingles, too. It also reduces risk of infection in the community, especially among those who are susceptible but can't be vaccinated, such as pregnant women. Two doses of the vaccine are administered four to eight weeks apart to people 13 and older.

Shingles Vaccine: Important After 60

The virus that gave you chickenpox as a child can strike again as shingles or "herpes zoster" when you're an adult. Most common after age 60, the painful, blistering shingles rash can damage your eyes and cause long-term pain called postherpetic neuralgia. If you get this rash, you can also infect others with chickenpox. If you're 60 or older, a one-dose vaccine is recommended to prevent shingles.

HPV Vaccine for Some Men and Women

HPV vaccines protect against some strains of human papillomavirus that cause most cervical cancers in women and some throat cancers in men. One of the available HPV vaccines also protects against most genital warts in men and women. HPV is spread by sexual contact. The vaccine can be given to children as early as age 9, but young adults, especially those who have not had sexual activity, can receive the vaccine, too. It's available for men and women through age 26.

Protect Against Meningitis

Young adults who live in military barracks or college dorms, travelers to certain areas, and some people with weakened immune systems are among those who should be vaccinated against meningococcal disease, a leading cause of bacterial meningitis. Each year in the United States, about 1 in 10 people who get meningococcal disease die. Many others suffer brain damage or hearing loss. Ask your doctor about your risk.

Don't Flirt With Hepatitis

You can get one of the hepatitis viruses without knowing it. Risk factors for hepatitis A transmission include consuming contaminated food or water or men having sex with other men. An infected person can also spread it by not washing his hands after going to the bathroom. Hepatitis B can spread by contact with blood or body fluids of an infected person, such as during unprotected sex or use of others' personal items, such as razors. Sharing needles with an infected person when injecting drugs can also spread hep B. Hepatitis, especially hepatitis B, can lead to serious liver damage and even death. Ask your doctor if you should get a hepatitis A or B vaccine.

Vaccines for Foreign Travel

Travel vaccines aren't just a good idea. Some are required to enter certain countries. Keep current on your routine vaccinations. The CDC also recommends or requires other vaccinations depending on your destination. Plan on getting them 4 to 6 weeks before you leave. See the doctor even if your trip is closer than 4 weeks away. You may still benefit from vaccines or medication. Your doctor can tell you which vaccines can help you stay healthy.

Pneumococcus: Protect Yourself

An adult pneumonia vaccine protects against almost all pneumococcal bacteria that can cause pneumonia, bloodstream infections, and meningitis. Pneumococcal pneumonia can be severe and deadly, killing about 50,000 adults every year. It can also cause bacterial meningitis. It's recommended if you're over 65, or if you're 2-64 and smoke or have asthma, a chronic illness, or a weakened immune system. Your doctor may recommend this vaccine if you're over 50 and live in an area with an increased risk of pneumococcal disease.

Measles/Mumps/Rubella: 3 Vaccines in 1

The "Big 3" childhood diseases -- measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) -- can hit harder when you're an adult. One MMR vaccine protects against all three.  Most American adults have either had the measles or been vaccinated against it. If you haven't, you're still at risk for this highly infectious virus. Even worse, you may be at risk of serious complications such as pneumonia and encephalitis.

Mumps and Its Complications

Mumps vaccine is included in MMR.  Mumps is contagious and is marked by swollen salivary glands. In adults, mumps can often have complications like meningitis and painful swelling of the testicles and ovaries. Anyone born after 1956 should get the MMR vaccine, unless you have evidence of prior infection of MMR diseases or medical reasons not to be vaccinated.

Don't Risk Rubella

Rubella vaccine is also part of MMR. Spread through the air, rubella is especially serious for pregnant women. It can cause miscarriage, premature delivery, and congenital rubella syndrome -- a group of severe birth defects. Most women of childbearing age should already be vaccinated for MMR. If you are not vaccinated but are thinking about getting pregnant, wait until 4 weeks after vaccination before getting pregnant. If you're already pregnant and not vaccinated against rubella, get the vaccine after you have given birth.

Adult Vaccines: What You Should Know

Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on May 09, 2014

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