An influenza vaccine (flu shot) can prevent a serious illness that makes you feel miserable, requiring several weeks to recover. Flu can also cause serious complications, hospitalization and even death. From 20,000 to 50,000 Americans die from the flu every year.

While a flu shot is important this time of year, there are other vaccinations that adults need: pneumonia, tetanus and older adults need a shingles shot. Younger adults need Hepatitis A and B vaccines.

Flu shot needed every year

Flu can cause serious sickness for children, older people, pregnant women and some people with disabilities. People with heart, lung or kidney disease, or who have diabetes or asthma, are also at high risk of deadly complications from flu. However, even healthy people can get flu and become seriously ill.

Flu is highly contagious. From up to six feet away, an infected person can spread flu by coughing, sneezing or even talking, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Adults can infect others beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to a week after becoming sick. Children can pass the virus for a longer period. Symptoms start one to four days after the virus enters the body. You may be able to pass on the flu before you know you are sick as well as while you are sick. Some people can be infected with the flu virus, but have no symptoms and still spread the virus to others.

Seasonal flu outbreaks begin in October, peak in December through February, and can last through May. We often think of flu as a seasonal problem, but you can get it any time of year. Because it takes a couple of weeks for the body to build up full immunity to flu, get your family vaccinated this month before flu starts spreading to Arkansas. The vaccine provides immunity to flu for about six months, but can provide reasonable protection for one year.

Who needs a flu vaccine?

Everyone six months of age and older needs a flu vaccine every year. Flu viruses change from year to year so the vaccines are adjusted annually to be effective against the latest flu viruses.

The nasal spray vaccine (LAIV) is approved for people ages two through 49. It may work better than the shot in younger children. However, don’t use the nasal spray for children who have egg allergy, asthma, diabetes, heart or kidney disease, or just taken antiviral medication. If the nasal spray is not available, get a flu shot.

Children who have never been vaccinated and are between six months to eight years of age should have two doses of vaccine to build immunity. Children are more likely than adults to have complications from flu. More than 90 percent of children treated for flu in hospital intensive care units last year had not received a flu shot.

A flu shot (but not the nasal spray) is safe and highly recommended for pregnant women at any stage of pregnancy. It is also safe for women who have just given birth or are breastfeeding. Pregnant women are more susceptible to severe complications and flu can cause premature labor. The shot also protects the baby for the first six months until he or she can be vaccinated.

Don’t get a flu shot if you have:

  • An egg allergy or previous allergic reaction to other ingredients in the shot.
  • A moderate-to-severe illness; delay the shot until you are well.
  • A history of Guillain-Barre Syndrome; ask your doctor before getting a vaccine.

Two pneumonia shots

Pneumococcal disease causes more deaths annually in the United States than all other vaccine-preventable diseases combined. Each year, about one million Americans are hospitalized with pneumonia and about 50,000 will die from it. That’s why the CDC now recommends that older adults (65+) routinely receive two vaccines to protect them from pneumonia, sepsis (blood infection) and meningitis.

Older adults have an increased risk of life-threatening infection from pneumococcal bacteria. The incidence of pneumonia in adults over 65 years is nearly 10 times higher than in adults ages 18-34. About a third of the 40,000 cases of invasive pneumococcal disease occur in older Americans.

The two pneumonia vaccines work in different ways. Receiving both PCV 13 (brand name Prevnar 13) for immunocompromised adults and PPSV 23 (brand name Pneumovax) offers broader protection.

Many strains of Streptococcus pneumoniae are resistant to antibiotics. Complications from pneumococcal disease can last a lifetime and include heart problems, hearing loss, seizures, blindness and paralysis.

When to vaccine

The timing of the two pneumonia vaccines is crucial because it can affect effectiveness. Pneumonia vaccines can be given at any time of the year.

  • Adults 65 years or older, who have never received any type of pneumococcal vaccine, should receive PCV13 first, followed by PPSV23 six to 12 months later.
  • Adults 65 years or older who have already received PPSV23 should receive one dose of PCV13 at least one year after receiving PPSV23.
  • If revaccination is needed, wait to revaccinate for at least five years after the last dose of PPSV23 is given, or six to 12 months after PCV13.
  • Adults 65 or older, who received PPSV23 before age 65, will need a booster shot if it’s been more than five years since vaccination.

It is extremely important for all providers (pharmacies, medical clinics, etc.) administering vaccines to tell the patient which vaccine is given, as well as communicate this information to the patient’s primary care provider. This information must be accurately documented in the patient’s medical record.

Certain younger adults are at increased risk for pneumonia. One or two doses of PPSV23, given five years apart, are recommended for adults 19 to 64 years of age who:

  • Have chronic illnesses such as lung, heart, liver or kidney disease; asthma; diabetes or alcoholism
  • Have conditions that weaken the immune system (HIV/AIDS, cancer or damaged/absent spleen)
  • Live in a nursing home or other long-term care facility
  • Smoke cigarettes

A booster shot may be needed after five years for younger adults with compromised immune systems.

PCV 13 is recommended for adults 19 and older with asplenia, sickle-cell disease, cerebrospinal fluid leaks, cochlear implants or conditions that cause weakening of the immune system.

Tetanus booster every 10 years

Tetanus is a bacterial disease that causes painful spasms and tightening of all the muscles in the body. Thirty percent of those who get it, but have not been vaccinated, will die. You can get tetanus from a cut, burn, wound, puncture wound, even a needle prick. The bacteria is usually found in soil, dust and manure. It enters the body through breaks in the skin or puncture wounds.

Adults who have not received the Tdap vaccine (it also protects against pertussis  or whooping cough), should get a vaccination as soon as possible. You can have the Tdap regardless of when you last had a tetanus (Td) booster shot. Expectant mothers should get Tdap during the third trimester.

For most adults, after having the five recommended doses as children, a tetanus booster shot is strongly recommended every 10 years, or as recommended in case of injury. Adults who never had the initial five shots as a child should have a series of three tetanus shots.

Prevent Shingles

Shingles (also called herpes zoster) causes a painful, blistering skin rash that can last for weeks. The blisters scab over in a week to 10 days and clear up in about four weeks. Other symptoms include fever, headache, chills and upset stomach. Shingles can lead to eye complications that can result in vision loss.

People have described shingles pain as excruciating, aching, burning, stabbing and shock-like. It has been compared to the pain of childbirth or kidney stones. The pain may also lead to depression, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, loss of appetite and weight loss. Shingles can interfere with activities of daily living like dressing, bathing, eating, cooking, shopping and travel.

For some people, the pain from shingles can last for months or even years after the rash goes away. This painful condition is called postherpetic neuralgia or PHN. It is the most common complication of shingles.

Almost a third of Americans will develop shingles during their lifetime. The risk for shingles and its complications increase as you get older.About half of all shingles cases occur in people age 60 years or older.

The CDC recommends one shingles shot for those over age 60. Zostavax® is the only shingles vaccine currently available, and it is the only way to reduce your risk of shingles and its complications.

Shingles, caused by the varicella zoster virus (VZV), is the same virus that causes chickenpox. After a person recovers from chickenpox, the virus stays dormant (inactive) in the body. For reasons not fully understood, the virus can reactivate years later and cause shingles.

Shingles cannot be passed from one person to another. However, a person with shingles can transmit VZV to others. A person who is infected with VZV for the first time will develop chickenpox, not shingles.

Hepatitis A & B vaccines

Hepatitis is a contagious liver disease that results from one of three types (A, B and C) of viral infections. Hepatitis A, B and C viruses cause inflammation of the liver but each type affects the liver differently. Hepatitis can be caused by toxins, certain drugs, some diseases, heavy alcohol use and infections.

Most people recover completely from Hepatitis A without treatment. However, some people are severely ill for several months. The disease is most commonly spread by an infected person’s fecal matter after contact with infected objects, foods or drinks. It can also be spread by any type of sexual contact with an infected person. Hepatitis A does not cause long-term, chronic disease. However, Hepatitis B and C can become chronic, life-long liver infections. Chronic viral hepatitis can lead to serious liver problems including liver cancer. More than four million Americans are living with chronic Hepatitis B or C in the United States, but most do not know they are infected. At least half of all new cases of liver cancer are caused by chronic Hepatitis C.

Only Hepatitis A and B can be prevented with vaccines. There is no vaccine for Hepatitis C. Hepatitis A vaccine is recommended for all children at one year of age and for adults at increased risk. It is given in two shots, six months apart. There is also a combination vaccine that protects against both A and B. It is given as three shots, over a six-month period. These vaccines are highly effective within a month of the first shot. Long-term protection occurs after the second shot.

The Hepatitis B vaccine is now recommended for all infants at birth and for adults at increased risk.

Adults 19 – 26 years old

In addition to an annual flu shot and tetanus booster every 10 years, adults ages 19 to 26 should also get a HPV vaccine. It protects against the human papillomaviruses that causes most cervical cancers, anal cancer and genital warts. It is recommended for women up to age 26, men up to age 21 and men ages 22-26 who have sex with men.

Some vaccines may be recommended for adults because of particular job or school-related requirements, health conditions, lifestyle or other factors. Talk with your doctor about which vaccines you need at your next medical appointment.

Free vaccines

Flu vaccines – shot or nasal spray – are widely available at doctor’s offices, clinics, hospitals, pharmacies, workplaces and schools. They are free if your health insurance includes wellness benefits. Medicare, Medicaid and the private options also cover the cost of a flu vaccine.

For a list of free flu clinics operated by the Arkansas Department of Health go here and look for the Mass Flu Clinic List.

Pneumonia vaccines, as of Feb. 2, Medicare will cover an initial pneumococcal vaccine for beneficiaries who have never received a pneumococcal vaccine, and a different second pneumococcal vaccine one year after the first vaccine. Medicare beneficiaries can receive both vaccines at no cost under their Part B benefit, if the provider accepts Medicare.