By Amanda Vince, M.D.
Hallmark Health Medical Associates
Dr. Amanda Vince
Young adults have a lot on their minds. At ages 18 to 26, many are exploring their newfound freedom. It’s safe to say that very few young adults are thinking about which vaccines they might need to stay healthy.
But vaccines are important. Getting poked with a needle will never be enjoyable, but vaccines prevent dangerous diseases.
If you’re a young adult between 18 and 26, make sure you had these four vaccinations during your childhood, or get them now:
Tetanus bacteria live in soil and enter your body through cuts or wounds in the skin. A tetanus infection can cause severe muscle cramps.
In the worst cases, it can cause muscles to lock up, which could prevent you from moving and breathing. Tetanus is sometimes called “lockjaw” because severe infections can cause the muscles in your jaw to cramp and prevent you from opening your mouth. It’s scary stuff.
You should receive a tetanus shot at least every 10 years. Your doctor may recommend that you get it sooner if you suffer a wound, such as stepping on a nail.
If you never had the Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis) vaccination or it’s been more than 10 years since you did, you should get one as soon as possible to make sure you are fully protected. Usually you receive a vaccine as a baby, and then get a Tdap booster shot when you are 11 or 12 years old.
Also, pregnant women should get a Tdap shot with every pregnancy, even if they have had the vaccination previously. If you’re not sure whether you’ve had the vaccine, we can do a simple blood test to check for immunity.
Human papillomavirus (HPV)
The HPV vaccine is relatively new. It has been getting more publicity, but it’s still commonly misunderstood. There are more than 150 types of HPV, and some cause cancer, especially cervical cancer.
HPV is an extremely common sexually transmitted infection (STI). In fact, almost everyone who is sexually active will get some form of HPV during their lifetime. Most people don’t realize they have HPV – depending on the viral strain, symptoms may never appear or may appear years after the infection occurred.
Currently, we recommend vaccinating children for HPV when they are 11 years old. But because this is a newer practice, many young adults never had the vaccine.
All young adults within these categories should receive the HPV vaccine if they’ve never had it before, regardless if they’re sexually active:
- Young women, ages 18 to 26
- Young men, ages 18 to 21
Nearly all cases of cervical cancer are caused by HPV. Most cases of anal cancer also are caused by HPV. Gay men are at higher risk for developing anal cancer, and can receive the vaccine up to age 26.
It is especially important for young men to get vaccinated for HPV, because they frequently spread the virus to women. If we can eliminate HPV in men, we can decrease cervical cancer in women, as well.
Measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR)
Although cases of measles, mumps, and rubella are relatively rare, we’ve seen a resurgence in recent years. There is no treatment for any of these diseases, so getting the vaccine is important.
These contagious diseases spread the same way colds do, often through coughing or sneezing. Measles is especially contagious.
Most children in the United States receive the MMR vaccine. Vaccinating for MMR as a young adult is essential if you did not grow up in the United States or if you did not receive the vaccination as a child for any other reason.
MMR vaccination for young adults older than 18 involves two shots. These diseases can have very serious consequences if you are pregnant, including birth defects, so we routinely test pregnant women for immunity.
Chickenpox is a highly contagious viral infection. Although it’s usually thought of as a childhood disease, it can affect people at any age.
The vaccine to prevent chickenpox was approved in 1995, and now children routinely receive the vaccination. If you did not get the varicella vaccine as a child or have never had chickenpox, you should get it as a young adult.
Adults who get chickenpox are at a higher risk for possible complications from the disease. Vaccinating against the disease now also reduces your risk of getting shingles as an older adult.
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If you’ve missed one or more of these four important vaccinations, or if you’re not sure whether you’re immune, visit with your doctor. Believe me, a needle stick is preferable to being sick with any of these diseases.
Are you overdue on any of these vaccinations? Call us at (855) HHMA-DOC (855-446-2362) or schedule an appointment online.