April 23, 2014

Expert says update all your vaccines, not just the flu

Iowans hear repeatedly every fall about the importance of getting flu shots, but many people are unaware they should also surrender their arms for a host of other vaccines. Dr. Patricia Winokur, director of the vaccine treatment unit at University of Iowa Hospitals, says the flu is certainly not the only vaccine-preventable disease adults should keep in mind.

“The pneumococcal pneumonia shot is a shot that we’ve had for many years but a lot of people don’t know they’re supposed to get it,” Dr. Winokur says. “We haven’t actually done as good a job with vaccinating our adults as we do our kids. People who are over 65 should be considered candidates for the pneumococcal vaccine.”

If you have chronic heart or lung problems, she says that vaccine may be one you’d need even earlier. Another vaccine can help to prevent shingles, a disease that afflicts a million Americans every year with a blistering rash. She says the risk of getting shingles increases with age.

“The shingles vaccine is really based on the chicken pox vaccine, it’s a higher dose of that vaccine,” Winokur says. “We’ve found in adults 60 and over that we can prevent the occurrence of shingles. It’s a painful disease that people would definitely prefer to avoid if they could.”

Iowans who plan on traveling to foreign countries, be it for work or pleasure, will also need to protect themselves. Some shots need to be taken many weeks before the trip — or they may require multiple vaccines over time. “There are vaccines for typhoid fever, yellow fever, if you haven’t been vaccinated for hepatitis, these are things they would recommend if you’re traveling to some of these exotic locales,” Winokur says.

“Definitely, talk that over with your physician. Each country will have different requirements and they have different diseases that are prevalent in those areas.” There are plenty of other shots Iowans should keep on their radar. All adults should have tetanus and diphtheria vaccines every 10 years.

The meningococcal vaccine protects against meningitis and is recommended for first-year college students who will be living in dorms. To learn more, visit “www.cdc.gov/vaccines