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Take your best shot to prevent disease

Created date

November 20th, 2012

Along with everything else you have to keep track of regarding your health, keeping your immunizations up to date may not be your top priority. But many illnesses can be prevented by vaccinations, and in some instances, a simple shot may guard against serious, disease-related complications. Your immunity to disease tends to weaken somewhat with age, no matter how healthy you are, says Barbara Morris, M.D., medical director at Crest, an Erickson Living community in Highlands Ranch, Colo. You may be more susceptible to certain illnesses, and if you get sick, it can be harder to recover. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 45,000 adults in the U.S. die every year from diseases that could have been prevented with a vaccine.


In the U.S., the most deaths resulting from vaccine-preventable illnesses are related to the flu. The flu doesn t scare a lot of people, Morris says. But it s not simply a bad cold. Seniors have a higher risk of the virus spreading to other parts of the body and causing a dangerous infection such as pneumonia. An annual flu shot is necessary because the viruses change each year. It s best to be vaccinated by November, but even if you ve put it off, it s not too late. Flu season typically peaks in January or February but it may last as long as early spring. A flu shot may not entirely prevent you from getting the flu, but it certainly decreases your risk, says Morris. Even if you think you can recover from the flu without receiving the vaccine, you have to think of others around you, she adds. You are able to infect others before you notice any symptoms, and you could spread it to someone in poor health or a child.

Pneumococcal disease

The pneumococcus bacteria can cause one of the most serious forms of pneumonia, and it may also cause a dangerous infection elsewhere in your body such as in your blood or nervous system. The CDC reports that pneumococcal pneumonia is fatal for one out of every 20 people who contract it, but despite the disease s severity, only about 60% of older adults get immunized. Most people only need a one-time vaccination after age 65 to help prevent this disease, Morris says. If you have certain health risks or chronic conditions, you may need a shot before age 65 to remain protected. The pneumococcal vaccine is proven to be safe and effective, and it can be given at the same time as a flu shot.


One out of every five people in the U.S. who have had chickenpox will develop shingles in later life. By age 70, your risk increases even more. The disease is caused by a reactivation of the chickenpox virus, and it typically causes a painful rash that may last for weeks. Other symptoms may include fever, chills, headaches, or stomach upset. The symptoms may not sound very serious, and some people recover quickly without any problem, Morris says. But in some instances, shingles can become quite debilitating. It may cause persistent pain or spread to other parts of the body especially the eye. A shingles vaccine has been available for several years. Although it may not be 100% effective, it reduces your risk and may lessen the severity of the disease, Morris explains. Even if you ve had shingles, you should still get vaccinated. Although most people get shingles only once in their lifetime, Morris says, it is possible to develop it a second time.


Tetanus affects your nervous system and the bacteria (which live in soil) can enter your body through a cut or wound. Diphtheria is a harmful contagious illness that is spread from person to person through air droplets. It usually infects your nose and throat but can also spread to other organs in your body, such as the heart. Pertussis, or whooping cough, is a highly contagious respiratory illness. It is especially dangerous for infants. The vaccine for tetanus and diphtheria (Td) has been around for a while, but the combination tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis (Tdap) shot was approved for use in 2005. If you haven t received it, you need one Tdap and then a Td booster every ten years. Tdap is important especially if you have contact with babies or children in order to protect them from getting pertussis, Morris says.

Measles, mumps, and rubella

These diseases are very rare since the MMR vaccine was licensed in 1971. You may already be immune because these illnesses were fairly common in children before the vaccine was introduced. In some instances, you may need to have an MMR shot based on certain medical risk factors. Talk to your doctor about the necessity of this immunization.

Traveling out of the country

If you are planning an international trip, check with your local health department or your doctor about necessary vaccinations. In some cases, you may need a series of injections, so plan to have them several weeks before you leave. To learn more, check the CDC s website at or call the international travelers information line at 1-800-232-4636.

What about ' hepatitis?

Whether or not you need to be protected against hepatitis is based on individual factors. For instance, you may need a hepatitis A vaccine if you are traveling to a high-risk area, and some people with diabetes may need a hepatitis B vaccine (there is no vaccine for hepatitis C). Your doctor can determine if it s necessary for you.