Preventive health interventions are key to maintaining the health and good function of older adults. Despite being safe and a highly effective method of preventing certain infectious diseases, vaccination rates among older adults continue to lag behind national goals. Vaccines for older adults can be divided into three categories: those that are required for all older adults, those that may be required for special circumstances, and those that are required for travel. Physicians should be familiar with the indications, contraindications, and adverse effects of commonly used vaccines among older adults. This article will focus only on the vaccines required for all older adults.
Key words: vaccines, older adults, influenza, pneumococcal vaccine, herpes zoster, tetanus.
Michele Kohli, BSc, MSc
The persistence of influenza in the North American population has not been completely explained by epidemiologists.1 During the last influenza season (1997-98), there were 5,148 laboratory confirmed cases of influenza in Canada (see Table 1).2 The elderly population, those aged 65 years and above, are particularly susceptible to this disease. Over 95% of the deaths caused by influenza occur in this age group, in part, because of the higher prevalence of congestive heart failure and lung disease.1 Last year, the occurrence of influenza peaked between January and March.2 When the prevalence of influenza is high in a population, patients presenting with a febrile respiratory illness along with symptoms such as myalgia, headache, sore throat and cough are often diagnosed as having influenza.1 However, the gold standard for diagnosis is laboratory detection of the virus in nasopharyngeal swabs.1 The genes of the influenza virus mutate frequently, causing the antigenic molecules of the virus to change, resulting in the emergence of new viral sub-types. This process is known as antigenic drift. When human and swine or avian strains of influenza A recombine, the resulting new subtypes can cause pandemics.
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