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December 12, 2018 by Dr. Kyle Varner in Health issues

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but chickenpox is making a comeback in the US.

It’s one of the most easily tackled diseases and we’ve had a vaccine for it for 23 years, but this November there was a huge outbreak at the Asheville Waldorf School in North Carolina.

“This is the biggest chickenpox outbreak state health officials are aware of since the vaccine became available,” a North Carolina Department of Health spokesman told the media.

The reason? Nearly 75% of the children had not been vaccinated.

Now, as a libertarian, I’m not in favor of mandatory vaccination. I’m incredibly skeptical of authorities forcing you to get medical treatment and having them shove government-approved science down your throat is a dangerous precedent. But as a medical professional, I highly recommend individuals to choose to get vaccinated for some key diseases.

I’ve seen many completely avoidable tragedies of grown adults suffering severely from childhood diseases that would have been easily preventable by vaccine.

Sure, there are risks in being vaccinated, but they’re minor and it’s not until you get a horrible disease that you really know what you missed out on by not getting the jab.

The more people get vaccinated, the less risk there is of an outbreak. And let’s be clear, a lot of these diseases you really don’t want.

Which? Read on to find out which are the top 4 vaccines I think everyone should get—

Chickenpox and Shingles

Given the recent outbreak, it’s clearly going to be at the top of my list.

You might be surprised. Don’t most people get chickenpox as a kid, become immune, and never get it again? Sure! But that’s not the whole story…

The thing most people don’t get about chickenpox is that it’s a member of the herpes family. Yes, herpes, that nasty sexually transmitted disease that causes all sorts of blisters on your body.

Herpes is a dormant type of virus. Your immune system can suppress it, which makes you think you’re cured. But that virus is still living in your nervous system and can come out and play at any time. This becomes a big problem when you’re older and your immune system isn’t quite as sprightly as it used to be.

At that point, it can resurface as shingles, which is an extremely painful affliction. This is something I treat all the time as an internal medicine specialist.

It shows itself as large herpes outbreak on an area of your skin where you get multiple vesicles, skin erosions, and rough skin. It is one of the most acutely painful things I think I’ve seen in elderly people.

While you can treat it with medications, a substantial portion of these people develop what’s called Postherpetic neuralgia. This is where the nerve that it came out from hurts immensely for the rest of your life.

You have this neuropathic pain which is very hard to treat. It’s actually a potentially very disabling. What this means is that chickenpox caught as a child can come back and cause a disability for you as a senior citizen.

This is why if you had chickenpox as a kid, it’s important to get a Varicella-Zoster vaccine around age 50 to reduce the chances of getting shingles and postherpetic neuralgia.

Influenza

The next vaccine for us to talk about is the flu shot. This is one of the more controversial vaccines, because it has a new formula each year and thus requires annual jabs. Most of all, people think it’s just not necessary. After all, the flu is just a bad cold, right?

Unfortunately, it’s way worse than that. It’s a separate disease and one that can be really deadly as it’s constantly mutating.

This is not just an affliction that strikes older patients either. I’ve seen people in their 20s in intensive care on ventilators from flu, it’s that dangerous.

Thankfully, the flu shot is very effective. While the results fluctuate from year to year, overall in every year that has been studied, mortality from flu has been lower in people who got the vaccine than those who didn’t. (https://www.cdc.gov/flu/spotlights/vaccine-reduces-severe-outcomes.htm)

Pneumonia

Pneumonia is another one to keep an eye on, especially for senior citizens. In fact, pneumonia is tied with the flu in 8th place on the list of the top 10 leading causes of death in the US.

What makes pneumonia particularly dangerous, is that it affects your airways, which can have an immediate impact on your ability to function and can often lead to death. Older patients are much more susceptible to pneumonia because of less effective immune systems, heart conditions, and other health issues.

There are two main vaccines for this, called Pneumovax 13 and 23, as the bacteria that causes pneumonia comes in multiple different forms. When you’re over 65, you should get the 13 version, regardless of whether you’ve had any before, with the 23 version a year later.

And, let’s be clear, this vaccine works. Over 14 years it showed a 57% reduction in pneumonia rates, that’s huge.

HPV

The next one is the HPV vaccine, which is mostly applicable to younger adults. The HPV vaccine protects against a variety of serotypes of the human papillomavirus, which are primarily known for causing genital warts. It was initially pioneered as a vaccine to give to young women to prevent cervical cancer.

Now, we’re finding that most sexually active adults can benefit from the HPV vaccine, not just for a reduction of risk of cervical cancer, but also reduction of risk of anal cancers, of penile cancers, and of throat cancers. It doesn’t matter if you are a man or woman, you should probably be getting this vaccine.

Right now, there’s a lot of research going on into who should get it and how old you have to be before you see the benefit. If you’re in your 50s and in a monogamous marriage, then it’s probably no big deal. But if you’re younger and not in a monogamous relationship, get the HPV vaccine. You’re less likely to get cancer. It just makes sense.

This is what I’d call a “lifestyle” vaccination: one that only really applies to people who engage in certain activities. Things like flu and pneumonia can affect anyone, but this one is only really necessary if you are sexually active.

Conclusion

While I understand there’s a lot of fuss around the politics of vaccines, as a medical professional I can tell you they have reduced the rate of disease immensely.

If you’re in any of the riskier demographics, I would strongly urge you to get the necessary vaccinations as soon as possible. The risk of disease is much greater than you think and once you’ve got something it requires a lot of time and pain to get rid of.

What vaccinations have you had? Why did you get them? Have you seen the benefits? Let us know below.

This information is intended to help readers be more informed about their health options when speaking with a professional, but it should not be used alone to diagnose, treat, prevent or cure any disease or condition. Be sure to speak to a qualified doctor before taking any action to make sure that your choices reflect your actual health situation.

Comments (5)

  1. Judy Dohm says:

    DPT? I often forget how many years between tetanus vaccines and for those of us that garden and work outside – isn’t this important to keep updated? For those of us that travel to 3rd world countries – Hep A?

    • Dr. Varner says:

      Yes, this is an important vaccine. Adults who have not had it before should get a single dose, and everyone should get a DPT booster every 10 years. It is a useful vaccine, and I’m certainly up to date on it.

      Also, I should point out since a couple of people have asked: these are NOT the only vaccines people should get. I’m not posting about children’s vaccines because I restrict my medical practice to adults and I don’t keep up on the latest information about pediatric vaccines. And this certainly isn’t an exhaustive list of the vaccines I recommend to my patients, just four interesting and important ones.

  2. Elisheva Levin says:

    I live in the rump end of flyover country, and had been very healthy for 10 years. So I did not get the flu vaccination like I had in the years I was teaching. During those years, the medical people actually came to the school to give us the yearly shot. Since I did not have that opportunity, I neglected getting the flu vaccinatin. Last year, I went to another state to visit my son and brought home the H3N3 flu as a New Year present. I have never been so sick in my life. It took months to recover, and I have had a series pf colds as well. I suspect these are opportunistic viruses taking advantage of the situation. I was first in line for the flu vaccination this year. I never want to be that sick again!

    Thanks for the other advice. I have had the pneumonia vaccination, but not the Varicella. I have no need of the HPV because of my age and lifestyle.

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