'Ignorance is not bliss when it comes to your health,' says Dr. Thomas M. File, Jr., an infectious disease specialist and president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID). 'It's important to know which vaccines you need as an adult to avoid serious illness.'
One such vaccine helps prevent pneumococcal (pronounced noo-muh-kok-ul) disease. Those with children or grandchildren may know that kids receive pneumococcal vaccinations as part of the routine childhood immunization schedule. Few are aware, though, that adults also need protection from pneumococcal disease which kills thousands of adults in the United States every year and sickens many more, leading to more than 175,000 hospitalizations annually.
A bacterial infection, pneumococcal disease can cause pneumonia, meningitis, and blood poisoning (sepsis). The bacteria are spread through coughing, sneezing, or direct contact, such as kissing. Anyone can get pneumococcal disease, but it's most dangerous for those age 65 and older and adults of any age who smoke or have common health conditions such as: asthma; diabetes; heart, liver, lung or kidney disease; or HIV/AIDS or other conditions that weaken the immune system. This is true even if the condition is well controlled with medication or other treatment.
Most adults only need to receive one pneumococcal vaccination in their lifetime, though some will need more than one dose depending on age and personal health.
Dr. File advises that flu season is a good time to ask your health care provider about protection against pneumococcal disease - a common complication of the flu - but he emphasizes that adults can receive a pneumococcal vaccination at any time of year. He also urges adults to ask about other vaccines they may need including shingles, pertussis, or hepatitis.
'Vaccines are a simple and effective tool you can use to help protect your health now and in the future,' says File.
NFID stresses five reasons why you should get vaccinated for pneumococcal disease if it's recommended for you:
1. Pneumococcal disease is a potentially deadly infection that can strike quickly.
2. In its worst forms, pneumococcal disease kills one out of every four to five people over the age of 65 who get it.
3. Getting vaccinated is the safest, most effective way to protect yourself.
4. Even if vaccination does not stop you from getting the infection, it can reduce the severity, helping to keep you out of the hospital.
5. Medicare covers the cost of vaccination, and most private insurers will pay for those in at-risk groups.
For more information, visit www.adultvaccination.org.