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CDC: Adult Vaccination Rates Too Low

Only 2% of Eligible Adults Have Had Shingles Vaccine

Elderly, Babies Most Vulnerable

Michael N. Oxman, MD, of the San Diego VA Medical Center, said the newly available herpes zoster vaccine has the potential to prevent 280,000 shingles cases annually and 47,000 cases of an excruciatingly painful nerve complication known as postherpetic neuralgia.

One million new cases of shingles are diagnosed in the U.S. each year, and more than half occur in people aged 60 and older.

Shingles is caused by reactivation of the same virus that causes chickenpox, so anyone who has had chickenpox is at risk. Estimates suggest that more than half of people who reach age 85 develop shingles.

"Nearly everyone who gets shingles has pain (caused by nerve damage), and that pain can be severe," Oxman says. "Many people describe shingles pain as the worst pain they've ever endured."

Immunization against whooping cough, or pertussis, is routine in childhood, but adults need to be vaccinated too because immunity disappears over time.

While whooping cough can be serious and even deadly in adults, it is babies too young to be vaccinated who are most at risk, says Mark S. Dworkin, MD, of the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health.

"This disease is a baby killer," he said. "If we can immunize adolescents and adults, we can markedly impact the risk to infants. ... In the United States, we do see deaths in infants, even in this immunization era."

'Deaths Are Preventable'

In addition to shingles, whooping cough, influenza, and pneumococcal disease, vaccination is recommended in the U.S. for adults at various ages to protect against diphtheria, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, HPV (cervical cancer), measles, meningococcal disease, mumps, rubella, and tetanus. Immunization for measles, mumps, and rubella is given as a combination vaccine, as is tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (whooping cough).

"Combined, these infectious diseases kill more Americans annually than either breast cancer, HIV/AIDS, or traffic accidents," NFID Vice President and Vanderbilt University infectious disease specialist William Schaffner, MD, said in a news release.

"A concerted effort is needed to raise adult immunization rates," he said. "The important thing to remember is that deaths and illness associated with these infections are largely avoidable through vaccination."

Ob-gyn professor Stanley Gall, MD, said as many as 72% of the nearly 10,000 cervical cancer cases diagnosed each year in the United States could be prevented if all eligible females got the vaccine before being infected with HPV.

The survey suggested that only about one in 10 eligible adult women get vaccinated.

"That is a start, but we really do need to do better," Gall said.

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