August is National Immunization Awareness Month
August is National Immunization Awareness Month (NIAM) and this is a time for seniors to make sure they have taken advantage of some of the vaccines that can prevent serious diseases and suffering in the elderly.
We already wrote about the new shingles vaccine in our blog post from February 14, 2018 and how important it is for seniors to get a shingles vaccine to prevent getting shingles. Shingles is a disease that can take weeks, months or even years to recover from and unfortunately some seniors are left with chronic pain.
A disease that is dangerous for small children under age five and the elderly can be successfully prevented with a vaccine.
Pneumococcal disease is an infectious disease caused by the Streptococcus pneumoniae (S. pneumoniae) bacterium, also referred to as pneumococcus. Pneumococcus can cause:
Pneumococcal bacterium can cause a very severe form of pneumonia and this is the most common type of pneumococcal infection. Complications, especially in the elderly, can lead to death. While 5 out of 100 people with pneumococcal pneumonia die, it is believed that the rate of death is even higher in seniors. Complications are:
- Empyema is an Infection of the space between the membranes that form a border around the lungs and the chest cavity.
- Pericarditis is inflammation of the sac surrounding the heart.
- Endobronchial obstruction is a blockage of the airway that allows air into the lungs which can cause the lung to close or collapse (atelectasis) which can also lead to formation of a pus filled abscess in the lung.
Sepsis, commonly called blood poisoning, is an infection of the blood that can be carried throughout the body and this can lead to organ failure and death if it is not treated in time. Sepsis is life threatening and can develop very quickly and must be treated as soon as possible. Sepsis can follow surgery or wounds that were not properly cared for.
Infections of the Middle Ear (otitis media) and Sinus Infections
Up to half of middle ear infections are caused by pneumococcal bacterium. In some cases these kinds of infections can lead to hearing loss.
Bacterial meningitis is a serious infection of the membranes (meninges) that surround the brain and spinal cord. Meningitis can lead to swelling, which brings on a headache, a very stiff neck and fever. One of the ways that doctors test for it is by asking a patient to tip their head and neck backwards and if there is meningitis the person cannot do this. Other symptoms are confusion and increased sensitivity of eyes to light (photophobia).
Pneumococcal infections are the leading cause of bacterial meningitis in the United States. It can be fatal and it is important to start antibiotics on time. However, these kinds of bacterial infections are not always easy to treat and sometimes there is resistance to the antibiotics. In fact, pneumococcal bacteria are resistant to one or more antibiotics in 3 out of every 10 cases. It is far better to prevent the chance of bacterial meningitis by immunization than to have to deal with treating such a serious disease, especially as some antibiotics are no longer able to cure it.
Fortunately, there is a pneumococcal vaccine which can prevent 90 different pneumococcal infections including all those terrible infections listed above. It is given to infants, toddlers and small children. It is also given to seniors over age 60 in two separate shots.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend getting the annual flu shot, as the flu can make you vulnerable to catching a pneumococcal infection or some other kind of pneumonia.
Tetanus Diphtheria Booster (TD)
Many seniors have not kept up with their tetanus and diphtheria booster shot, which needs to be given every 10 years. These are two diseases that could rightfully be called scourges, as not only are they killers, but they cause tremendous suffering, especially tetanus also called lock-jaw.
Short or Long-term Rehab and Skilled Nursing Care
Make sure that you or your loved one’s immunizations are all up-to-date before moving to a residential facility.
No one should have to go through suffering that can be so easily prevented by immunization. Seniors should get the shingles vaccine, the pneumococcus vaccine, the annual flu shot and the tetanus diphtheria booster (TD). Also, check with your doctor about other vaccines that you might need.