They teach your immune system how to fight germs -- without an actual infection. That's because in most cases, you're given a weaker or inactive version of a virus or bacteria, or an important part of it. When your immune system sees these germs, it learns to fight them and keep you from getting sick later.
The bacteria that cause tetanus enter the body through wounds, cuts, or scrapes. Tetanus can lead to severe muscle spasms, stiffness, and lockjaw. That's when you can't open your mouth or swallow. We get sick because of a toxin or toxins the bacteria make. The Tdap vaccine works as a booster shot against three infections. It not only protects you from tetanus, but from diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough), too. A one-time Tdap vaccine and a Td (tetanus-diphtheria) booster every 10 years are all it takes to keep from getting these diseases. Pregnant women should get a booster between weeks 27 and 36 of each pregnancy.
If you've avoided chickenpox (varicella) so far, don't push your luck. You can still get it by being in a room with someone who has it. Adults with chickenpox have a higher risk of complications, hospitalization, and death. For example, varicella pneumonia may be more severe in pregnant women and is a medical emergency. Untreated, almost half of pregnant women with varicella pneumonia die. Since chickenpox puts you at risk for shingles, chickenpox vaccine may offer some protection against shingles, too. It also reduces risk of infection in the community, especially among those who are susceptible but can't be vaccinated, such as pregnant women. Two doses of the vaccine are administered four to eight weeks apart to people 13 and older.
The virus that gave you chickenpox as a child can strike again as shingles or "herpes zoster" when you're an adult. Most common after age 60, the painful, blistering shingles rash can damage your eyes and cause long-term pain called postherpetic neuralgia. If you get this rash, you can also infect others with chickenpox. The two-dose Shingrix vaccine is recommended to prevent shingles for any one 50 or older, as well as in those 18 or older who are immunodeficient or immunosuppressed.
HPV vaccines protect against some strains of human papillomavirus that cause most cervical cancers in women and some throat cancers in men. One of the available HPV vaccines also protects against most genital warts in men and women. HPV is spread by sexual contact. The vaccine can be given to children as early as age 9, but young adults, especially those who have not had sexual activity, can receive the vaccine, too. It's available for men and women through age 26.
Young adults who live in military barracks or college dorms, travelers to certain areas, and some people with weakened immune systems are among those who should be vaccinated against meningococcal disease, a leading cause of bacterial meningitis. Each year in the United States, about 1 in 10 people who get meningococcal disease die. Many others suffer brain damage or hearing loss. Ask your doctor about your risk.
You can get one of the hepatitis viruses without knowing it. Risk factors for hepatitis A transmission include consuming contaminated food or water or men having sex with other men. An infected person can also spread it by not washing their hands after going to the bathroom. Hepatitis B can spread by contact with blood or body fluids of an infected person, such as during unprotected sex or use of others' personal items, such as razors. Sharing needles with an infected person when injecting drugs can also spread hep B. Hepatitis, especially hepatitis B, can lead to serious liver damage and even death. Ask your doctor if you should get a hepatitis A or B vaccine.
Travel vaccines aren't just a good idea. Some are required to enter certain countries. Keep current on your routine vaccinations. The CDC also recommends or requires other vaccinations depending on your destination. Plan on getting them 4 to 6 weeks before you leave. See the doctor even if your trip is closer than 4 weeks away. You may still benefit from vaccines or medication. Your doctor can tell you which vaccines can help you stay healthy.
The CDC and flu experts recommend that just about everyone get a flu vaccination every year. Why? Each year's vaccine is based on the three strains of influenza virus that are expected to be widespread that season. Short on time? No problem. Flu shots are available at supermarkets, pharmacies, schools, and churches, as well as doctors' offices. And you can get one anytime during flu season. How easy is that?
Depending on the vaccine, you'll get one or two shots. As more people get vaccinated and become immune, COVID-19 won't spread as easily.
Available COVID-19 vaccines work in different ways. Vaccines that use mRNA give your cells the genetic instructions to make an important part of the virus. This triggers an immune response that protects you from infection. Protein subunit vaccines work by giving you proteins from the virus so your immune system learns to attack them. Vector vaccines put the genetic instructions to make part of the virus that causes COVID-19 into a different virus. This second virus delivers those instructions to your cells, which make a viral protein and trigger an immune response.
An adult pneumonia vaccine protects against almost all pneumococcal bacteria that can cause pneumonia, bloodstream infections, and meningitis. Pneumococcal pneumonia can be severe and deadly, killing about 50,000 adults every year. It can also cause bacterial meningitis.
The are two kinds of these vaccines in the U.S. The CDC recommends PCV13 (pneumococcal conjugate) for children under 2 and those with certain medical conditions. PPSV23 (pneumococcal polysaccharide) is suggested for adults 65 and older, those with certain conditions, and adults ages 19 to 64 who smoke.
The "Big 3" childhood diseases -- measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) -- can hit harder when you're an adult. One MMR vaccine protects against all three. Most American adults have either had the measles or been vaccinated against it. If you haven't, you're still at risk for this highly infectious virus. Even worse, you may be at risk of serious complications such as pneumonia and encephalitis.
Mumps vaccine is included in MMR. Mumps is contagious and is marked by swollen salivary glands. In adults, mumps can often have complications like meningitis and painful swelling of the testicles and ovaries. Anyone born after 1956 should get the MMR vaccine, unless you have evidence of prior infection of MMR diseases or medical reasons not to be vaccinated.
Rubella vaccine is also part of MMR. Spread through the air, rubella is especially serious for pregnant women. It can cause miscarriage, premature delivery, and congenital rubella syndrome -- a group of severe birth defects. Most women of childbearing age should already be vaccinated for MMR. If you are not vaccinated but are thinking about getting pregnant, wait until 4 weeks after vaccination before getting pregnant. If you're already pregnant and not vaccinated against rubella, get the vaccine after you have given birth.
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- Brigham and Women's Hospital: "Mumps in Adults."
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- Cleveland Clinic: "Hepatitis B."
- FamilyDoctor.org: "Shingles," "International Travel: Tips for Staying Healthy."
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- National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC): "What I need to know about Hepatitis A."
- National Foundation for Infectious Diseases: "Facts About Chicken Pox and Shingles for Adults."
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- World Health Organization: "Measles."