Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Vaccinations Help Spread Holiday Cheer, Not Illness

‘Tis the season to gather and share pumpkin pie, fun with family and friends, and, unfortunately, bugs that can make people very sick. Physicians urge everyone to get a few key vaccinations now — before holiday gatherings — to help keep holidays healthy for the whole family, from the babies to the grandparents.

“Making sure you’re protected from serious, possibly deadly, diseases helps prevent you from passing on an illness, like flu, that might prove much worse for a loved one,” said Erica Swegler, MD, an Austin family physician and member of the Texas Medical Association’s (TMA’s) Be Wise — ImmunizeSM Physician Advisory Panel. Infants, pregnant women, and the elderly are among those most at risk for developing a serious complication from an infectious disease that could be passed unintentionally to them.

The vaccinations that can most protect you and others this holiday season are:

  • Influenza (or flu): Everyone six months of age and older, including pregnant women, needs a yearly shot.
  • Tdap (protects against tetanus/lockjaw, diphtheria, and pertussis/whooping cough): Pregnant women need this shot in the third trimester of every pregnancy to protect their infant. Other adults need this shot once, then a Td every 10 years. Children and teens who are up to date on their vaccinations should have received this shot as part of their childhood and adolescent vaccinations. 

Whooping cough, or pertussis, is especially dangerous for infants. The Texas Department of State Health Services says more than half of babies under 1 year of age who get pertussis must be hospitalized. Many will have serious complications, like pneumonia or apnea (slowed or stopped breathing), and some become so sick they die. That’s why pregnant woman are encouraged to get a pertussis booster shot during pregnancy, to protect their newborn infant.

However, infants can catch pertussis from other family members or caregivers. Pertussis symptoms in teens and adults can be mild, so a parent, sibling, cousin, or an aunt or uncle might unknowingly spread pertussis to a baby.

“If you’ll have an infant at your holiday gatherings, it’s especially important other family members are up to date with their shots because the babies are too young to get vaccinated for some illnesses,” said C. Mary Healy, MD, another member of TMA’s Be Wise — Immunize Physician Advisory Panel.

And because babies require a series of pertussis vaccinations, they are not fully protected from whooping cough until they’re close to 18 months of age.

Flu poses a threat, too. Babies can’t get vaccinated for flu until they are at least six months old. Flu shots are recommended for everyone older than six months, including pregnant women.

Until they can get their shots, babies rely on the vaccinations of those around them to avoid catching serious diseases, said Dr. Healy, a pediatric infectious disease specialist in Houston. And for both flu and whooping cough shots, your body needs about two weeks to develop the best protection, so you shouldn’t wait to get vaccinated, added Dr. Healy.

Flu can be serious for many people, from the young to the old. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 20,000 U.S. children younger than 5 years of age end up in the hospital each year because of flu complications, such as pneumonia. Nearly 70 percent of hospitalizations from flu-related illness are in people who are over age 65. And most (up to 85 percent) flu-related deaths are among the elderly. Flu can also cause pregnant women to go into labor early.

“Vaccinations are one of the easiest and safest ways to protect yourself and those around you from getting sick,” said Dr. Swegler. “Don’t sideline yourself or someone else from holiday festivities this year by passing along an illness that could have been prevented … and try to keep your distance (about 6 feet) from anyone who shows up sick at a holiday gathering to avoid catching germs from their sneezing or coughing,” said Dr. Swegler.

Based on your age and health conditions, vaccinations are needed throughout your life to protect you from illnesses like pneumonia and shingles. Check with your doctor to make sure you’ve had all the shots you need.

TMA has these resources, in English and Spanish, for more information:

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