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Vaccination for adults

September 19, 2006

Adults often assume that vaccines aren’t for them, that they are a child thing.But with newer vaccines on the block and diseases on the rise,not taking your vaccines could mean the difference between life and death. What’s the big deal you might ask? After all, you lead a regular life, are not in any of the high-risk groups,and you absolutely avoid eating in unhygienic places.Well,medical thinking has changed.Take Hepatitis B for instance.At one time it was believed that the Hepatitis B vaccine should be given only to medical personnel and sex workers,but nowadays it is given routinely to children.

In countries where Hepatitis B is rampant,adults are advised to take it. The disease is fatal, has no known cure and is highly infectious,transferred by way of minimal amounts of blood and body fluids.“The Hepatitis B vaccine is an absolute must for high-risk groups but to be safe,the general population should take it,”advises Dr Pradip Sanghvi, physician. Remember, more Indians suffer from Hepatitis than HIV AIDS.

Rubella is a mild viral infection,but today it is recognised that whole populations need to be vaccinated against it as the disease can cause serious defects in the developing foetus.This vaccine is now given routinely to children in the combined MMR (Measles, Mumps,Rubella). It is compulsory for pregnant women. There is some debate about whether adults should vaccinate themselves against water-borne diseases like typhoid and cholera. Both are common in India,the risk increasing with consumption of outside food.Eating at good hotels is no guarantee.

There are other vaccines adults need to take i.e.repeat doses of those they have had as children.“Most of the vaccines taken during childhood require boosters in adult life,”says Dr Nusly Pocha,physician.Tetanus is one of them.A deadly disease which affects the nervous system, the tetanus bacteria can enter the body through a punctured wound, specially if deep. Luckily,Tetanus has an incubation period and an unprotected person can get himself treated immediately after the injury, like in the case of rabies. Rabies, another disease of the nervous system, can be contracted from animal and human bites or scratches, and shots after the bite usually suffice.Only animal handlers and vets take this vaccine routinely.

The Hepatitis A and Chicken pox vaccines are considered less important as these diseases are not life-threatening,but they can cause virulent attacks in adults. For busy people,the several weeks in bed can be a setback. Adults who have not been exposed to chicken-pox and work with children are advised to take the vaccine.

Vaccines for influenza and pneumonia are not freely available. However, the flu vaccine (which changes every year) is only recommended for vulnerable groups.“Only the very elderly,and those with lowered immunity caused by other diseases are advised the flu vaccine,”says Dr Sanghvi. There is also Japanese encephalitis (JE), a disease,which can cause permanent disability or death.While this mosquito-borne disease mostly attacks children, doctors advise travellers to endemic areas to take this vaccine.

Every year not only are improved versions of older vaccines being made, new vaccines are being discovered,and trite as it may sound, prevention is better than cure. So why not bury those childhood memories of torturous shots and sore spots,have a chat with your doctor, and then go for it?

(Published in The Times of India, Mumbai in 2006)

Related Reading: Child Vaccination
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