A vaccine confers immunity to a virus by signaling your immune system to prepare to fend off that virus. Vaccines are made from a dead virus, a weakened version of the virus (live virus) or sometimes just a piece of the virus. This essentially makes your immune system think that you are infected with the virus. Your immune system then produces antibodies to destroy the virus. Your body then continues to make antibodies to the virus, which will prevent the actual virus from being able to infect you.
The United States requires that children receive vaccines for various viruses before they are admitted to public schools. Additionally, many colleges require proof of immunization against many viruses in order to attend classes. However, persons born outside of the United States may not have received some of these immunizations. Additionally, some immunizations, such as for Hepatitis, are relatively new. This means that while children are immune, adults haven’t received the vaccine and are vulnerable to infection.
Unfortunately, many insurance plans do not cover vaccinations for adults. I recommend that you call your insurance carrier and ask if immunizations against certain diseases are covered.
Even if immunizations are not covered, I recommend that all of my patients be checked for immunity to various diseases and, if not immune, be immunized. The out-of-pocket expense is small compared to the suffering of contracting certain diseases. I can administer an immunization in my office.
I recommend testing for immunity to and, if necessary, receiving an immunization against the diseases described below.
There are a few adults that did not contract chicken pox when they were children. Chicken Pox can be quite serious in adults however, leading to pneumonia and even death. As I mentioned earlier, chicken pox is very contagious and quite common in children. If you or any of your friends has children, you will probably be exposed. If you had chicken pox as a child then it really doesn’t matter since you can’t catch it again. If you have any doubt that you caught chicken pox as a child, I recommend that you be tested for immunity. If not immune, I recommend that you make an appointment to receive the vaccine. You really do not want to catch this as an adult.
Hepatitis B is the only sexually transmitted disease preventable by vaccine. I recommend that all of my patients check with their insurance carrier to verify coverage for this vaccine. Even if your insurance does not cover it, I recommend that my patients receive this vaccine. I especially recommend that my single, sexually active patients be immunized against Hepatitis B. Hepatitis B vaccine may be considered a travel vaccination.
The influenza virus readily mutates into new strains, so every year a new vaccine is developed and administered. The current year’s vaccine is usually available in September, and I recommend that all of my patients receive the vaccine.
Pneumonia frequently follows another illness, such as a cold or the flu, which provides an opportunity for the bacteria or virus to infect the lungs. While most young and middle-aged adults recover from pneumonia when treated, young children, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems can have additional complications. In these people, the bacteria can spread into the bloodstream causing sepsis (blood poisoning).
Pneumonia caused by the pneumococcal bacteria can be prevented by taking a vaccine. This vaccine will not protect you from pneumonia caused by other bacteria or viruses. I recommend that my patients that are at least 65 years old and those with diabetes or compromised immune systems take this vaccine.
Tetanus is contracted by a deep and/or dirty cut, or the infamous puncture wound by a “rusty nail.” Fortunately, tetanus can be prevented. First, wash all cuts thoroughly with soap and water. Second, make sure your tetanus vaccine is current.
In the United States, children are immunized against tetanus. Afterward, a tetanus booster shot is recommended at least every 10 years. However, if you have a very deep and dirty cut, you should get a tetanus booster shot unless you have had one within the last 5 years.
The vaccines mentioned above are only for illnesses that I feel my patients are at the highest risk of contracting. There are many additional vaccines that I didn’t mention, many for illnesses that are rare in the United States but very common in other parts of the world. If you are planning on traveling outside the United States, please arrange an appointment with me so that we can discuss and plan for you to receive the proper immunizations.