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Vaccinations and immunizations are something that most people think about in regards to their children. Few realize, however, that there are many different immunizations that adults should be kept up-to-date with. Granted, most of us are aware of the importance of getting an annual flu shot, but the hustle and bustle of life tends to make it easy for us to forget even that.

“As adults, we don’t think about getting immunizations,” Ann Walker said. Walker is an RN with the Kern County Department of Public Health Immunization Section. “We think to ourselves, ‘Oh, we’re done, we don’t need anything else.’ But adults need to know that vaccines aren’t just for children, they’re for everyone.”

And while a general naïvety keeps some adults from winding up on the business end of a needle, others simply worry they cannot afford the cost. The fact of the matter is that some folks don’t have the disposable income to pay for these vaccines and would rather take the chance of contracting an illness than spend the money on what may seem like an unnecessary expenditure. However, the Kern County Department of Public Health offers many immunizations at a reduced cost and they encourage everyone to learn about the importance of immunization for our collective health; it’s about prevention.

“This is a really good time to take advantage,” Assistant Director of Disease Control Denise Smith said, referring to reduced-cost immunizations. “While we still have them available to us.”

The Department of Public Health offers these services to ensure our safety, however it’s our job to utilize them. We are not the only ones who are responsible for our state of health, but it’s important to realize that we can lead by example. Oftentimes, we rely on the cleanliness of those with whom we come into contact with throughout our daily activities to help us keep unwanted illness at bay.

“Unfortunately, we are all potentially at risk for Hepatitis A,” Smith said. “If you have ever eaten out, you’re potentially at risk. All it takes is one food server to not wash their hands after using the restroom. Hepatitis A, an oral-fecal transmitted disease, is usually less severe than Hepatitis B, which is contracted from exchange of bodily fluids, either through sexual intercourse, tattoo needles, or other relative situations.” The immunizations are free to the public and it’s recommended that adults receive two doses of the Hepatitis A vaccine and three doses of the Hepatitis B vaccine throughout their adult lifetime if risk factors are present, which include intravenous drug use with shared needles and unprotected sexual relations, among others.

Currently, the Department of Public Health is offering Hepatitis A and B shots thanks to state-purchased vaccines. Initially only running until December of 2008, the program has been extended throughout 2009.

Other vaccinations that are important for adults to use as safeguards include Varicella (chicken pox), Tetanus, Diphtheria, Pertussis (Td/Tdap), and Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR). These vaccines are also available at reduced cost to the public. All of these diseases are something that Smith says, “adults could and should protect themselves against.”

It’s recommended that adults receive two doses of Varicella after the age of 19, one or two doses of MMR during the ages of 19-49, and only one dose of MMR after the age of 50 if other risk factors are present. Those risk factors can include lowered immune system, other infections, or even one’s lifestyle. It’s important to remember that even if you’ve had

Many immunizations are a matter of precaution; better being safe than sorry.

“Some people do have complications from these diseases,” Smith said. “Especially when contracted as an adult.”

Chicken pox is the most regularly known instance of single contraction, usually as a young child. However, if the first (and supposedly only) bout with chicken pox is not a bad enough infection, the body does not develop adequate antibodies to fight off the virus. If contracted as an adult, chicken pox can end up being quite severe.

Walker talked of a woman who attended her church who came down with chicken pox a few years ago and ended up “on a respirator in the intensive care unit...it was that severe.”

The vaccine for chicken pox is fairly new, being developed in the mid-90s and being instituted as a required vaccine for school children in 2001.

Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR) come in a single shot. As is the case with chicken pox, once these diseases are contracted as a child, the individual builds up immunity.

“With rubella, there is potential risk involved for pregnant women and their unborn children,” Walker said. “It is possible for the mother to pass on the disease to her unborn child, which can result in congenital birth defects and anomalies.”

However, anyone born after 1957 should have received the immunization and will not have to worry about the measles, mumps, or rubella.

“The tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis immunization is really important because we have had a resurgence of pertussis in our country,” Smith said. “Adults are particularly susceptible to it, because they can be a carrier of pertussis with few or little symptoms.”

Better known as “whooping cough,” adults can carry the disease and pass it on to others being none the wiser. In the last three to five years, the Tetanus, Diphtheria, Acellular Pertussis (Tdap) vaccine was developed. But seeing as how a regular tetanus shot (Td) is only recommended every 10 years, a lot of adults probably haven’t gotten their Tdap vaccination since they’re not due for their shot yet.

“It is important to get a Tdap, just to be safe...especially if you’re going to be around babies a lot,” Walker said. “Because we can harbor the bacteria as adolescents and adults...and pertussis is really hard on the young ones.”

There are different criteria for different immunizations, like gender, that one must meet prior to getting certain inoculations. The immunization for the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), for example, is only licensed for women between 19 and 26, who should receive three doses during that time. However, studies are ongoing to expand the age group. There is also hope studies will bring a vaccination for men in the next couple of years.

If you’re a regular traveler, immunizations are vital to staying healthy while away from home...especially if traveling outside of the country. If you’re preparing to go on vacation, it would be smart and educational to visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website (cdc.gov) to find out what specific immunizations may be recommended or required in the area you’ll be gallivanting. Locally, the Kern County Department of Public Health also has a travel clinic, where you can find out more information on specific vaccines and when you should get them.

The Kern County Department of Public Health can be contacted at (661) 868-0306, or online at www.co.kern.ca.us/health.

And one big thing to remember...

Physicians don’t offer many vaccines unless they are requested, so it’s important to keep yourself up to speed on which inoculations are right for you and talk to your doctor!

©istockphoto.com/linearcurves

Article appeared in our 26-2 Issue - June 2009