As the green shade of summer slips into the burnt orange of fall, the media will begin reporting on the importance of the influenza vaccine. But other than an influenza vaccine, what important vaccines do you need to talk to your doctor about this year? Epidemiologist Stephanie Schauer from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services provided her expertise of contagious diseases and the vaccines that can prevent them.
The Flu (Influenza) Vaccine
“The CDC recommends a flu (influenza) vaccine for any person age 6 months or older every year,” said Stephanie. “Fewer than 50% of adults receive a flu vaccine. Flu is very serious especially for adults with high risk medical conditions. It’s important to keep the community healthy too!”
Influenza complications include pneumonia, sinus infections, ear infections, muscle inflammation, inflammation of the heart or inflammation of the sac that surrounds the heart.
“The flu vaccine can be given any time during pregnancy. Pregnant women with influenza have more complications such as pre-term delivery and a 4x increase in hospitalizations than the average woman. The increased risk of complications is due to the changes in the woman’s body due to the pregnancy,” explained Stephanie. “Women who are pregnant should not have the nasal spray for influenza, but the vaccine.”
The Tdap Vaccine
The Tdap vaccine protects women from tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis, also known as whooping cough. “The optimal time for the Tdap for a pregnant woman is at 27-36 weeks of gestation. The pregnant mother should have the Tdap during every pregnancy. This gives the mother and the infant the protection they both need to fight these infectious diseases. Whooping cough in a newborn is very serious,” stressed Stephanie. “One shot protects two people!”
Whooping cough can be spread by a cough or a sneeze therefore it is vital that grandparents, family and friends that would be around the infant have the Tdap vaccine also. A Tdap vaccine is given only one time but an adult may receive a TD booster.
The Pneumonia Vaccine
Pneumonia is an infection that causes inflammation in the lungs. It can be extremely serious for young infants and children, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems. “The pneumonia vaccine is routinely recommended for adults, including women, age 65 and older,” noted Stephanie. There are two vaccines, the conjugate and the polysaccharide. Your medical provider can determine the order in which the vaccines will be given to you based on any previous pneumonia vaccines you may have received and your underlying health conditions.
The Shingles Vaccine
“Shingles is caused by a reactivation of the chicken pox virus,” explained Stephanie. The virus has been dormant in a person who previously had chicken pox and the aging process can cause reactivation of this virus. “Fifty percent of the people who had chicken pox up until they reach the age 85 are likely to develop shingles.”
Shingles is very painful. It can cause complications such as post herpetic neuralgia which is severe nerve pain in the shingles outbreak area that can last up to a year. “If shingles is on one side of the face, the infection can travel up to the eye and cause damage to the nerve of that eye, causing loss of sight,” said Stephanie. One dose at age 60 or over is all that is needed for shingles.
The MMR Vaccine
Adults born after the year 1957 should have the MMR vaccine. This vaccine will protect someone from measles, mumps and rubella (German measles). “People born before 1957 should have immunity as these diseases were a common occurrence at that time. Women who are pregnant and did not have the vaccine cannot be vaccinated while pregnant because the vaccination has the live virus in it. A woman planning on a future pregnancy should have an MMR vaccine or her health care provider will complete an antibody test to prove that the woman has immunity,” said Stephanie.
The HPV Vaccine
The human papillomavirus (HPV) is a group made up of more than 150 related viruses. HPV is transmitted through sexual contact when one of the partners already has the virus. “Females ages 11 to 12 up to the age of 26 can be given the vaccine. It helps protect against many types of gynecologic cancers. The vaccine consists of 3 doses over a 6 month time period.
Why Do You Need to Keep Up on Your Vaccines?
Stephanie shared, “It is important to stay healthy for yourself and the community. Babies, grandparents and cancer treatment patients are all susceptible to these contagious diseases. These are preventable illnesses with a vaccine. Vaccines are safe and effective!” You can access your immunization records at the Wisconsin Immunization Registry (https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/immunization/wir.htm) if you need to find the type and dates of your immunizations. Your childhood immunizations may not be there, but current vaccines are recorded by your health provider.
Take time this fall to talk to your health provider and determine which vaccines you need. Protect yourself. Protect the community. Get your vaccines!
Because it all begins with a healthy woman…
Sue Ann Thompson is founder and president of the Wisconsin Women’s Health Foundation (WWHF), a statewide non-profit organization whose mission is to help Wisconsin women and their families reach their healthiest potential. WWHF provides programs and conducts forums that focus on education, prevention, and early detection; connects individuals to health resources; produces and distributes the most up-to-date health education and resource materials; and, awards grants and scholarships to women health researchers and related community non-profits. To learn more, visit wwhf.org or call 1-800-448-5148.