October 13, 2011

Should you get the flu or pneumonia vaccine? Which flu vaccine should you get? Historically, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have recommended three vaccines for older Americans: seasonal influenza, pneumonia and shingles. The pathogens that cause flu or pneumonia can be deadly when manifested in the elderly, and the vaccines are clearly beneficial. Here is a bit of background on each:

  • Pneumonia: Pneumococcus, a bacterium that colonizes in the upper respiratory tract, can cause not only pneumonia, but also deadly blood infections, meningitis and earaches. It kills more people in the United States than all other vaccine-preventable diseases combined. The CDC strongly encourages everyone over 65 to get a one-time shot, which should be effective for the rest of their lives.
  • Shingles: Shingles, a rash caused by the varicella zoster virus, is a cruel cousin of the chicken pox. About one-third of all adults will get shingles at some point, and 10 to 18% of those who get shingles will develop a severe pain syndrome caused by nerve inflammation. It can last for weeks or months after the rash has cleared up, and no effective treatment exists for the syndrome. Though there is a vaccine for shingles, less than 2% of those who should get immunized do so. Check with your physician to see if you should be immunized.
  • Influenza: For flu, authorities recommend annual vaccinations for everyone over 50 years old.