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October 9, 2007 > Take Your Best Shot Against Infectious Disease

Take Your Best Shot Against Infectious Disease

Adult Immunization Awareness Week Highlights Preventive Vaccines

Getting immunized is your best shot at protecting yourself from infectious diseases such as influenza, hepatitis B, and meningitis. This week is National Adult Immunization Awareness Week, which focuses on the need for adults and adolescents to get the necessary vaccinations to help protect against these and other serious diseases.
"The fact is there are a lot of vaccine-preventable diseases in adults," says Dr. Claire Segui, a family practice physician with Washington Township Medical Group at Newark, Inc. "Influenza, for example, comes around every fall and causes up to 50,000 deaths each year."
Influenza, or the flu as it's commonly called, is a contagious respiratory disease that can cause severe illness. Like some other serious diseases that can kill, it is easily prevented with a flu vaccination. Those at high risk should get a flu shot, which includes people over 50, those with chronic health conditions, and individuals who work with those groups. You need to get the flu shot every year because the flu strains change.
"People think about vaccinations for their children because schools require them," Segui says. "But for adults, there is no one telling them they have to do it."
Unfortunately, that can have dangerous consequences. "Adults over age 20 represent 90 percent of the tetanus cases and 100 percent of the deaths," says Segui.
That's because children routinely receive their tetanus shots, while most adults do not. Fifty-three percent of those over age 20 are not protected against tetanus, according to the California Adult Immunization Coalition. This number jumps to 70 percent for adults over age 70.
Tetanus enters the body through a deep cut and causes painful tightening of the muscles, which can cause the jaw to lock shut. Adults need to get a booster shot every 10 years to stay protected.
The Hepatitis B vaccine was developed in 1982 and since then the average number of new infections has dropped from 260,000 per year to 60,000 per year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The greatest decline has happened among children, who are routinely vaccinated against the disease.
"Most adults today who were children before the vaccine was developed haven't been vaccinated," Segui says. "Now as adults, they don't think about it or may not even know a vaccine exists."
Prevent Disease and Get Immunized
Lack of knowledge may be one of the biggest reasons adults and adolescents aren't routinely vaccinated, according to Segui. "Many people don't understand how important it is for them and their adolescent children to get immunized, and that is a problem," she says.
For example, adolescents and young adults have an increased incidence of meningococcal meningitis. The disease affects the brain and spinal cord and can cause lifelong disability and even death. However, the vast majority of cases among this age group are vaccine-preventable.
"We especially recommend that students heading off to college get vaccinated against meningitis, particularly if they will be living in a dormitory situation," Segui says.
Another vaccination adolescents and young adults need to know about is one that protects against the Human Papillomavirus or HPV, which can cause cervical cancer. A new vaccine that protects against HPV was approved last year for use in girls and women ages 9 to 26.
"When given to girls and women before they are exposed to the Papillomavirus, the vaccine has an efficacy rate of nearly 100 percent," Segui says. "We need to keep our patients aware of the immunizations they should be getting and improve adult and adolescent vaccination rates."
For more information about vaccinations that are available and when you should get them, visit and talk to your doctor.

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