By Robert G. Graw, Jr., M.D. 

This season, as the leaves start to fall and temperatures drop, it’s important for seniors to focus on getting ready for winter.  Aside from taking basic health precautions, like washing your hands frequently to fend off coughs and colds, there are several important vaccinations that can protect you from harsher winter illnesses.  

Both flu and pneumonia, most prevalent during the fall and winter months, pose serious health risks to seniors.  Flu viruses have the highest mortality among young children and the elderly.  Pneumonia, a prevalent pneumococcal bacteria causing upper and lower respiratory tract infections, can also affect seniors more seriously, based on their lower stamina or preexisting vulnerabilities, such as respiratory disease, a history of smoking, asthma or chronic lung problems. A California outbreak of pertussis, also known as whopping cough, has heightened concerns about it spreading.  With this type of infection, many adults develop severe upper respiratory tract infections, with persistent cold symptoms and coughing.  Pertussis can be fatal for young children, so getting vaccinated protects them, and you, from the resurgence of this damaging illness.  Be aware that newborns are particularly vulnerable, since they have no immunity until they receive their childhood vaccinations during the first six months of life.  It is recommended that seniors through age 64 receive a pertussis booster vaccine, now included in the tetanus and diphtheria boosters, to promote immunity to the illness. 

During this busy season, remember to get your flu shot, which covers the seasonal flu as well as the H1N1 virus. For seniors over age 65, there is a special high-dose flu shot.  The flu vaccine is available in a shot or nasal spray, called FluMist.  In addition, be sure you are up to date with your pneumonia and pertussis vaccines, as advised by your physician. These vaccinations protect you, as well as your children, grandchildren and neighbors.

For those who travel, it’s important to research carefully the specific diseases present in the regions where you are going. This information can be easily obtained from the Centers for Disease Control at www.cdc.gov or from your physician.  Be sure to get all necessary vaccinations sufficiently in advance of anticipated travel in order to receive maximum protection from the vaccines. 

Remind others how important it is get the appropriate vaccines, and always keep a good record of your own so that you, your family and your physician have a good reference.  By focusing on vaccines this fall, you can help yourself and your family stay active and healthy all year long. 

Robert G. Graw, Jr., M.D., a practicing physician, is the founder and CEO of Righttime Medical Care.  He is also the grandfather of four. He can be reached at [email protected] 


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