“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” — Benjamin Franklin
One of the most powerful tools you have for preventing infection is vaccination. You may be familiar with annual flu shots, or maybe you’ve accompanied your kids to their vaccinations at the pediatrician’s office. But did you know there are vaccines recommended in adulthood as well? Staying up to date on your vaccinations can help keep both you and the people around you healthier.
Tetanus, diphtheria and acellular pertussis (Tdap)
Many people are probably aware that they should get a tetanus booster every 10 years or when they get big cuts or wounds. But you should also seek a Tdap vaccination during pregnancy because pertussis, also called whooping cough, can be a potentially deadly infection for infants. By getting the shot during pregnancy, your body produces protective antibodies that are transferred to the baby through the placenta and breast milk.
If you’re pregnant, you should get a Tdap dose between weeks 27 and 36 of pregnancy. Make sure that family and friends who will be visiting your new baby also are up to date on the Tdap vaccine.
Recombinant zoster vaccine (RZV)
While not a life-threatening condition, shingles can be quite painful. Ask your friends and family, and I bet you’ll find someone who doesn’t ever want to get shingles again.
Shingles is the reactivation of the chickenpox virus (varicella zoster virus), which remains in the body for life after chickenpox in childhood. Vaccination helps boost the immune system to keep the virus suppressed so you don’t get shingles. The newest shingles vaccine (Shingrix) is over 90% effective at preventing shingles and recommended for all adults age 50 and up.
Don’t think you’ve ever had chickenpox? You should still get the shingles vaccine. Unless you were vaccinated against chickenpox (a vaccine that didn’t come out until 1995), you were probably exposed in childhood.
Even if you’ve had shingles before, you can get it again, so the vaccine is still recommended.
Human papillomavirus (HPV)
Human papillomavirus contributes to most cases of cervical cancer and many cases of vaginal, vulvar and anal cancer. While pap smears and routine gynecological exams can help detect these cancers at early stages, HPV vaccines can prevent cancer from developing in the first place. Vaccination also has the added benefit of preventing genital warts.
Ideally, vaccination should take place in childhood, before you become sexually active. Still, there is benefit for cancer prevention when you’re vaccinated in adulthood or after you have become sexually active. The HPV vaccine protects against nine different strains of the HPV virus, so even if you have already been exposed to one or two of these strains, the vaccine will protect you against the others. The HPV vaccine is currently approved for adults of all genders who wish to be vaccinated up to age 45.
Hepatitis B is an infection that can lead to liver problems like cirrhosis and sometimes even liver cancer. The hepatitis B virus can be contracted through contact with blood and other body fluids. Exposure can occur in many settings, including:
- Travel to certain areas of the world
- The workplace, if you are a health care worker
- Sexual contact
Individuals who have frequent needle pokes due to medical conditions (such as diabetes or dialysis) may also be exposed.
Because of the many ways hepatitis B virus can be contracted, new guidelines in 2022 expanded the recommendations for hepatitis B vaccination to include all adults ages 19 to 59 who have not previously completed a hepatitis B vaccination series. In 2017, a new formulation of the hepatitis B vaccine was approved (Heplisav-B). This makes getting vaccinated for hepatitis even easier, as it requires only two doses one month apart, instead of a three-shot regimen.
Along with a healthy diet, regular physical exercise, and routine screening exams like mammograms and colonoscopies, vaccines are an important part of maintaining your health and wellness.
If you have underlying medical issues such as lung problems, immune system problems or liver disease, you should review these conditions with a health care provider to find out whether additional vaccines are recommended based on your medical history.
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