Friday, November 3, 2017

Vaccinations Help Ensure Holiday Merriment

Neatly wrapped packages, pies fresh from the oven, and a peck on the cheek make holiday gatherings merry for the youngest to the oldest. Sadly, someone’s cough or sneeze could spread a life-threatening illness to grandma or your new grandbaby whose bodies are less able to fight off infection. That’s why Texas physicians say making sure your family is up to date on vaccinations, including flu, is key to keeping everyone healthy this holiday season.

“Making sure your vaccinations are current protects you and others you’ll be around — from your new niece or nephew to your grandparent in a nursing home,” said Arathi Shah, MD, a pediatrician based in Arlington and member of the Texas Medical Association’s (TMA’s) Be Wise — ImmunizeSM Physician Advisory Panel. “Diseases like flu and whooping cough can’t spread when many people in a community (and family) are vaccinated.”

Infants, pregnant women, and the elderly are among those most likely to get sick and develop a serious complication from a vaccine-preventable illness. Two vaccinations are key to protecting you and others this holiday season:

  • 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 (tetanus/diphtheria) every 10 years. Children and teens receive this shot as part of routine childhood and adolescent vaccinations, so those who are up to date on their vaccinations should have received this.  

Flu season can last from October to May; in most years, it peaks in December through February. Flu can become serious for anyone. The youngest and the oldest are most at risk, as are people with chronic medical problems like asthma or any condition that weakens their body like cancer.

As many as 26,000 U.S. children younger than 5 years of age have landed in the hospital with pneumonia or other flu complications annually in recent years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most flu-related hospitalizations (nearly 70 percent), as well as flu-related deaths, occur in people over age 65.

Babies can’t be vaccinated for flu until they are at least six months old. That means those around them must protect them from the flu. The flu shot mom gets during pregnancy protects her and baby until the infant can get vaccinated, said Dr. Shah.

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 difficulty breathing, which can be life-threatening.

Pregnant woman are urged to get a pertussis shot during pregnancy to protect their newborn. Family members who will be around an infant also should get vaccinated against pertussis. Infants often catch pertussis from other family members or caregivers who don’t know they have it because their symptoms can be mild.

“Vaccinations are one of the best ways to prevent illness,” said Dr. Shah. “Don’t miss out on a holiday celebration or keep someone else away by getting or passing along sickness that could have been avoided — or worse, unwittingly pass along a potentially deadly illness to a loved one.”

For flu and whooping cough shots, your body needs about two weeks to develop the strongest protection, so doctors urge people to get vaccinated now for protection through the holiday season.

And based on people’s age and health conditions, vaccinations are needed throughout life to protect them from other illnesses like measles, chickenpox, and bacterial pneumonia. Dr. Shah suggests everyone check with their doctor to make sure they have all the shots they need.

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