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Adult Vaccinations

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by Tom Chillemi

Adults need vaccinations too, said Dr. William Nelson, acting health director for the Three Rivers Health District of the Virginia Department of Health.

“A simple flu shot, shingles shot, pneumonia shot and a tetanus booster with the pertussis component will all help protect you and your loved ones,” said Dr. Nelson.

If you’re not familiar with shingles, consider yourself lucky. One out of three people in the United States will get shingles at some time in their life—about 1 million people a year, said Dr. Nelson.

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The single-dose vaccine, Zostavax, has been approved for only about 5 years and is recommended for persons over 60 years of age, said Dr. Nelson. It boosts the immune system and can cut the chance of getting shingles by 50%.

Shingles is caused by the chickenpox virus and anyone who has had chickenpox can get shingles, usually later in life.

Dr. Nelson explained that when a person gets chickenpox, usually as a young person, the virus doesn’t actually go away. The virus travels through a person’s nervous system and goes dormant at the root of the nerve near the spinal column—often for decades.

Unfortunately, it can reactivate decades later as shingles. “This is often a result of a decline in the person’s immunity due to illness, age or cancer chemotherapy,” said Dr. Nelson. “In  most cases, it’s a matter of  naturally declining immunity to the chickenpox virus.”

Shingles erupts in painful blisters where the nerve ends. This gives the disease its characteristic pattern that is often seen over an eye, or along a rib. The blisters are usually very painful.

Although most people have only one shingles episode, it can occur again. Sometimes the pain persists for weeks, months or years afterwards, a condition known as post-herpetic neuralgia. Treatment is limited to pain relief.

Very painful

Robert “Captain Bob” Jensen, 83, of Topping lost most of his vision in one eye as a result of shingles, which he contracted in 2004. “It felt like I was getting shots to my head every hour for a week.”

County health departments can administer the shingles vaccine without a doctor’s prescription. The cost is $125 and insurance may cover part of the cost. Citizens should call their local health department to check vaccine availability:

Middlesex 758-2381
Lancaster 462-9919
Northumberland 580-8827
Richmond 333-4043
Westmoreland 493-1335
Gloucester 693-6130
Mathews 725-7131
King & Queen 785-6154
Essex 443-3396

Seven years later he is still living with pain, which flares up when he is overactive. “I would recommend getting the shingles shot,” said Jensen. “You don’t want to go through what I went through.”

Fortunately, people with shingles are generally not contagious the same way that children with chickenpox are.

However, since the chickenpox virus may be in the fluid-filled blisters, a shingles patient can give chickenpox to someone who never had it, but they cannot give anyone shingles. That only comes from having a previous chickenpox infection.

People with shingles should be careful around premature or low-birth-weight infants, pregnant women who have never had chickenpox or who are not vaccinated, and individuals with immune disorders or who are on cancer chemotherapy. All of these people can get seriously ill from a case of chickenpox, which puts them at risk for contracting shingles later.

Vaccination

The shingles vaccine is very similar to the chickenpox vaccine, although it is more concentrated, said Dr. William Nelson, acting health director of the Three Rivers Health District of the Virginia Department of Health.

The shingles shot is recommended for persons age 60 and up. One shot will boost your immunity, and greatly decrease your chance of getting shingles.

Medicare Part D usually pays for the shingles shot. However, you may have a co-pay, depending on your health insurance plan. 

Medicare Part B does not pay for the shingles shot.

Check your health insurance to see if it will pay part of the cost of the shingles shot.

Several local pharmacies also administer the shingles shot, when they have it. The shot costs about $185 when administered at an approved pharmacy. Two area pharmacies said the vaccine is on back order, but another said it had an ample supply.

It also can be given by your doctor and insurance may pay a portion.

Some health departments in the Three Rivers Health District currently have the vaccine. The cost is $125.64 and no prescription is necessary if administered at a health department. Call the local public health nurse at your health department.

Other vaccinations are a good idea

Besides the shingles vaccine, health officials recommend a flu shot or vaccination every year for all people over the age of 6 months, said Dr. William Nelson, acting health director of the Three Rivers Health District of the Virginia Department of Health.

Those over the age of 64 should get a pneumococcal vaccination, which protects from certain kinds of pneumonia.

A tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (Tdap) booster is also recommended every 10 years. Also, it is now recommended that your next tetanus shot include the pertussis (whooping cough) component. This protects you against the whooping cough germ but more importantly it helps protect the babies and small children you may come in contact with. “If you are protected against the whooping cough, children are less likely to get this potentially fatal disease from you,” said Dr. Nelson. “Grandparents or a new mother may want to get this Tdap vaccination right away and not wait until it’s time for your next booster.” 

There are other vaccinations, but they may depend on your own health situation, said Dr. Nelson. Check with your doctor, or visit the Center for Disease Control (CDC) website.

posted 02.25.2011

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