Shots for Safety

Shots - or immunizations - are not just for children! Adults also need to be vaccinated from time to time to protect themselves against serious infectious diseases. In fact, some shots are more important for adults than for children. Every year, thousands of older people die needlessly. The Federal Government's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) strongly encourage older adults to be immunized against flu, pneumococcal disease, tetanus and diphtheria, and chickenpox, as well as measles, mumps, and rubella.


Flu - the short name for influenza - is a highly contagious infection that causes fever, chills, dry cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, as well as headache, muscle aches, and often extreme fatigue. Flu usually is a mild disease in healthy children, young adults, and middle-aged people. However, it can be life threatening in older adults.

Flu viruses change all the time. For this reason, you need to get a flu shot every year. To give your body time to build the proper defense, it's important to get a flu shot between September and mid-November, before the flu season usually starts.

Although side effects from the flu shot are slight for most people, some soreness, redness, or swelling may occur on the arm where the shot was given. About 5 to 10 percent of people have mild side effects such as headache or low-grade fever, which last for about a day after vaccination.

The flu shot is the primary method of preventing and controlling the flu. However, four drugs have been approved to treat people who get the flu: amantadine (Symmetrel), rimantadine (Flumadine), zanamivir (Relenza), and oseltamivir (Tamiflu). When taken within 48 hours after the onset of illness, these drugs reduce the duration of fever and other symptoms. These drugs are available only by prescription.

Pneumococcal Disease

Pneumococcal disease is a serious infection. Many people are familiar with pnuemococcal pneumonia, which affects the lungs. But the bacteria that cause this form of pneumonia also can attack other parts of the body. When the same bacteria invade the lining of the brain, they cause meningitis. When they enter the bloodstream, they cause bacteremia. They also can cause middle ear and sinus infections.

The CDC recommends that people 65 and older get the pneumococcal vaccine. The shot is safe and can be given at the same time as the flu shot. Most people only need a single dose. However, the CDC advises people 65 and older to have a second dose of the pneumococcal vaccine if they received the shot more than 5 years previously and were younger than 65 when they were vaccinated the first time. No one should receive more than 2 total doses of the pneumococcal vaccine available now.

About half of the people who get the shot have minor side effects - temporary swelling, redness, and soreness at the place on the arm where the shot was given. A few people (less than 1 percent) have fever, muscle pain, or more serious swelling and pain on the arm.

Pneumococcal disease is treated with antibiotics. However, in recent years the bacteria that cause pneumococcal disease have become more and more resistant to penicillin. This is one reason why prevention and the development of newer, more effective vaccines are so important.

Tetanus and Diphtheria

Tetanus (sometimes called lockjaw) is caused by the toxin (poison) of a bacterium. The bacteria can enter the body through a tiny pinprick or scratch but prefer deep puncture wounds or cuts like those made by nails or knives. Tetanus bacteria commonly are found in soil, dust, and manure. Tetanus is not spread from person to person. Common first signs of tetanus are headache and muscle stiffness in the jaw, followed by stiffness of the neck, difficulty swallowing, muscle spasms, sweating, and fever.