Immunizations are not just for children. They continue to be important in adult- hood to protect you from several dangerous infectious diseases, although the number of immunizations you need drops dramatically after age 16. The three most important immunizations are those for tetanus, inﬂuenza (ﬂu), and pneu- mococcal disease (a type of pneumonia).
Tetanus is a bacterial infection that affects the central nervous system and can be life-threatening. The bacteria that cause tetanus are found in soil, dust, and animal feces and usually enter the body through an open cut. The bacteria pro- duce a toxin, or poison, in the body that attacks the nervous system, stiffening the muscles. Tetanus is commonly called lockjaw because the muscles in the jaw and neck are affected ﬁrst. You should get a booster shot of the tetanus vaccine every 10 years throughout adulthood.
Inﬂuenza, commonly called the ﬂu, is an infection caused by a virus that affects the respiratory system. Symptoms include fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, and a sore throat. Inﬂuenza is spread from person to person through direct contact, such as shaking hands, or by inhaling droplets containing the virus in the air after an infected person coughs or sneezes. New strains of inﬂuenza virus appear every year, so you must get a shot of the inﬂuenza vaccine yearly, in the fall, just before the ﬂu season starts. Doctors recommend the inﬂuenza vaccine for all men over age 65 and for younger men who have medical problems such as heart disease, lung disease, or diabetes or who have close contact with high-risk people.
Pneumococcal disease is caused by a bacterium. It can lead to pneumonia and a number of other serious complications. The most common symptoms are fever, chills, chest pain, a bluish cast to the lips and under the nails, and a cough. You should have a “pneumonia shot” if you are age 65 or over or if you have a long-term health problem such as heart or lung disease, diabetes, or kidney dis- orders. The vaccine is taken once and provides long-term immunity; it can be taken at any time of the year. A person should be revaccinated if he received pneumococcal vaccine in childhood and has a chronic condition such as sickle- cell disease.
Some men may need additional immunizations, depending on several factors. Hepatitis is a potentially serious inﬂammation of the liver caused by different viruses. The hepatitis A virus is transmitted through food touched by an infected person or in water that has become contaminated with raw sewage. The vaccine for hepatitis A is administered in two doses. Men traveling to countries in which the disease is common should get the ﬁrst dose at least 4 weeks before departure, but preferably much earlier because the second dose is given 6 to 12 months after the ﬁrst. The hepatitis B virus is spread through contact with an infected person’s blood or other body ﬂuids. Healthcare workers who may be exposed to a patient’s body ﬂuids, dialysis patients, people with HIV, and men who live with people infected with hepatitis B are at risk of getting the disease and should be immunized. The hepatitis B vaccine is given in three doses. The second dose is administered 1 month after the ﬁrst, and the third dose is given 5 months after the second.
A chickenpox (varicella) vaccine is now available for children and for adults who never contracted the disease in childhood. Chickenpox is a very contagious disease that causes only fever and an itchy rash in children. Although rare in adults, chickenpox can be much more serious when contracted in adulthood, causing sterility in men. Ask your doctor if he or she recommends that you get immunized for chickenpox. The vaccine is given in two doses, the second dose 1 to 2 months after the ﬁrst.