When you hear the word “immunization,” you probably think about small children crying in a doctor’s office. However, the need for these preventative measures does not end with adulthood. In fact, seniors should be aware of the steps they can take to stay healthy through immunizations.
There are two main immunizations recommended for people 65 and older – the annual influenza (or flu) shot, and the pneumococcal vaccination.
The influenza vaccination is recommended for individuals of any age at the beginning of fall, to help head off infection during flu season. It is widely available and sometimes offered for free in certain communities.
It only takes a quick stick in the arm. Most immunized people only feel sore at the injection site for a day or two afterwards, though side effects can sometimes include hoarseness, sore or red eyes, a cough, itchiness, fever or aches. However, contrary to a common myth, the flu shot does not cause the flu.
Influenza itself is much more uncomfortable. Symptoms such as aches and pains, fever, runny nose, fatigue and coughing can last a week or longer. The flu also puts people at risk for complications like ear or sinus infections, dehydration or even potentially deadly pneumonia. In fact, according to the American Geriatrics Society, the flu causes 36,000 deaths and 200,000 hospitalizations each year in the United States.
So what about the pneumococcal vaccination? This is a one-time booster dose for those who have been vaccinated in the past. It is given in the arm, much like the flu shot, and is covered by Medicare.
The pneumococcal vaccination lowers the risk of contracting pneumococcal disease, which can lead to pneumonia, meningitis or bacteremia (blood poisoning).
Pneumonia is serious business. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 52,000 people in the United States died of this respiratory condition in 2007 (the most recent statistics available). In addition, 1.2 million people were hospitalized.
Bacterial meningitis, which affects the brain and causes sudden stiffness in the neck, fever and headache, is also no laughing matter. According to the CDC, 10 percent of those with the disease die from it.
Bacteremia is characterized by sudden fever, nausea, chills and a rapid heartbeat. Without prompt treatment, it too can become deadly.
In addition to these highly emphasized immunizations, several others can help safeguard the health of seniors, including the tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis booster, and the herpes zoster vaccine, which reduces the risk of shingles.
The bottom line is that just a few shots can help reduce seniors’ risk of contracting diseases. These immunizations can lead to a healthier, more active life.
Seniors are encouraged to ask their physicians if they need any immunizations updated.
After all, it’s just a shot at a healthier life.