Ask Dr. Robert Lowe about the efficacy of vaccinations and he might show you a chart demonstrating how well they’ve worked.
For example, in 2011 more people died from falling out of bed than contracted the mumps. In 2012, the number of Americans diagnosed with diphtheria, smallpox, or polio, was — zero.
His point? Vaccines have played historic roles in taming what once were major — even killer — diseases, and vaccinations should be kept current even for adults. Right now, flu shots are on the minds of local health professionals.
Getting flu shots is especially important, they say, as the H1N1 strain is making its way across the southern states toward California.
“Flu in California and Nevada County is still sporadic,” Dr. Lowe said, “but it is expected to become more widespread as winter progresses.”
(For a map showing how the flu has spread across the nation, visit http://gis.cdc.gov/grasp/fluview/main.html.)
To get ready, the 800 employees at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital have already taken their shots, along with doctors, volunteers, and students who work there, according to Lisa Humphrey, RN, employee health nurse.
“Flu shots are mandatory for us, and we start vaccinating in November,” she said.
Only a handful of employees decided not to take the shots, and they must wear masks until the end of March, Humphrey said.
It’s not too late to get a flu shot, both Humphrey and Dr. Lowe stated. His office continues to give flu vaccine to patients until early March.
“(Flu) vaccination is 50 to 80 percent effective, depending on the person’s age and health of the immune system,” Dr. Lowe explained. “Vaccination can make flu less severe in those who have received the vaccine but still catch the flu.”
He noted that antiviral medications such as Tamiflu could lessen the severity and duration of flu if started early enough.
Sherry Dunn, PHN, immunization coordinator for the Nevada County Public Health Department, invited residents to call her office at 530-265-7265 for information about the flu and where to get vaccinated.
But she and Dr. Lowe emphasized that adults need to be mindful of other immunizations, as well.
“Immunizations are not just for kids,” Dunn said. “Regardless of age, we all need immunizations to keep us healthy. Over time, immunity from vaccines wears off and booster shots are necessary.”
“In my own practice, I suggest yearly flu vaccine, keeping up to date on tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis vaccinations, as well as pneumococcal vaccination,” Dr. Lowe advised. “For those over age 60 a vaccine against shingles is also recommended.”
Adult vaccinations are not just to protect the individuals who get them, Dunn noted.
“When you get immunized as an adult you are not only protecting yourself, you are protecting the most vulnerable of the population, the very young, the elderly, and those persons whose immune systems are not strong,” she explained. “Getting vaccinated as an adult is the responsible and appropriate thing to do for yourself and others.”
Babies are especially vulnerable to pertussis, or whooping cough, she warned. She and other health professionals recommend “cocooning,” the term for immunizing everyone around babies to help prevent pertussis. That includes parents, grandparents, siblings, and aunts and uncles.
Another common disease that can be prevented through vaccine is pneumonia, Dunn said. “People at greater risk for pneumonia are persons aged 65 and older, the very young, and people with certain health problems, weakened immune systems, and smokers.”
Adult immunizations may be influenced by factors such as age, lifestyle, health conditions, travel, and previous immunizations, Dunn said.
Having an annual flu shot is important because different strains of flu appear all over the globe and travel between continents and hemispheres, Dr. Lowe said. “This year’s northern hemisphere flu vaccine is based in large part on what was found in the southern hemisphere last flu season,” he explained.
Flu outbreaks all over the globe are monitored through the World Health Organization, which makes recommendations to nations worldwide. The Centers for Disease Control then determines the best mix for the United States.
“Most strains this year have been H1N1 so far, and that’s matched by the vaccine which this year has two influenza A strains — H1N1 California and H3N2 Victoria, plus influenza B Massachusetts,” Dr. Lowe said.
In other words, this year’s flu shot should have you covered.
All physicians providing care for patients at SNMH are members of the medical staff and are independent practitioners, not employees of the hospital.