Part 2 of Vaccines and Healthy Travel

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August 22, 2018

Part 2 of Vaccines and Healthy Travel
by Darra McMullen,
Women’s Health Network Writer/Researcher
Hopefully, you’ve had a chance to read the first “installment” of this month’s article, which came out in early August.  If so, you’ll know this month, we’re looking at two topics, each of which has so much information pertaining to it, that it seemed best to divide the story into two segments for easier reading.  As we continue our investigation of important vaccines and healthy travel tips, we should first take a look at an important caution regarding vaccinations.
Important Caution:
Often times, people are tempted to ease the resulting pain from a vaccine by taking an over-the-counter pain reliever.  Actually, that’s not a good idea from the standpoint of producing maximum immunity from the disease for which you were vaccinated.  Anything that reduces the body’s immune response, such as ibuprofen, or even ice, can potentially reduce the protective effects of the vaccine.  Inflammation, and the resulting pain from it, is actually a good sign that your body is reacting properly to the vaccine and making protective anti-bodies.  Fortunately, arm or other muscle pain from a vaccine usually lasts only about 10 hours to 1 or 2 days at most, so that you don’t have a long time to be uncomfortable before improvement starts.
News Alert:
Local and national news sources have recently been featuring stories about the rise of measles cases in the United States in general, and in Texas in particular.  The trend has been escalating slowly over the past few years, but experts have seen an up-tick in cases recently.  Doctors are now urging anyone who has unvaccinated children or adults in their family to please get the measles vaccine as soon as possible.  The disease is particularly hard on young children, but it can strike adults too, especially the chronically ill or the elderly.  Even young, healthy, but unvaccinated adults should get the vaccine, not only to spare them from an unpleasant illness, but to possibly save the life of a child or chronically ill person, who could contract measles from the young adult.
            Anyone who has ever had chicken pox has the herpes virus strain in their bodies that can result in a case of shingles under the right circumstances.  Although the disease, shingles, is more common in older people due to their lowered immune system function, shingles can occur in much younger people who have some reason(s) to have lowered immunity.  Emotional stress, extremes of temperature, lack of sleep, serious injury, or other factors can cause even the youthful immune system to take a serious hit in the ability to respond.

            Shingles is an opportunistic disease.  When the immune system has some reason to be at low ebb, shingles viruses can overwhelm the body and erupt into a painful, blistering rash (at best) and long-term, debilitating nerve pain and extreme itching at worst.  Glaucoma and even blindness can occur if shingles lesions get in the eye.

            In short, it is best to avoid shingles altogether if possible.  The best way to do that, aside from taking good care of your health in general, is to get vaccinated.  The vaccine is pretty effective – 50% to 70% - depending on the age and physical condition of the recipient.  Vaccine side effects are few and mild, generally.

            The only drawback to the vaccine is for people who are allergic to the anti-biotic, Neomycin.  These individuals cannot get the most commonly available shingles vaccine in this country, because it contains Neomycin as a preservative. Allergen-free shingles vaccines are commonly available in Canada and Europe.  If you’re allergic to Neomycin, talk to your doctor for guidance about any possible vaccination options. 

            Another reason for getting the shingles vaccine (if you’re eligible for it) is to help prevent heart attacks and strokes.  People who had shingles after age 40 had a 10% higher risk for heart attack and a 15% higher risk for a mini-stroke.  The numbers for people who had experienced shingles prior to age 40 were even worse.  These persons had a 50% higher risk for heart attack, a 2.4 times greater likelihood of mini-stroke, and a 74% higher risk for stroke.  These statistics came from a study led by Dr. Judith Breuer, professor of virology at University College London.  The study was published in Neurology.

            The shingles vaccine is even recommended for people who have already had shingles.  Yes, you can get shingles more than once, and the vaccine can help prevent repeat rounds of the disease.
            Tetanus shots are not just for puncture wounds.  The tetanus bacteria live in dirt and can enter the body through simple cuts or scrapes.  It is harder for the tetanus bacteria to grow in an open scrape than a deep puncture wound, but not impossible.  So, if it has been 10 years or more since your last vaccine, it is time to get another one, even if you are not presently injured, according to Dr. William Schaffner at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville.

            The one exception to this advice comes to those persons who have had a previous severe reaction to the tetanus vaccine, whether an allergic reaction or serious side effects.  Those persons should seek the advice of a physician before ever getting another tetanus vaccine.
Any “missed” childhood vaccine or disease:
            Are you concerned that you may not have been vaccinated against polio?  Did you somehow “miss out” on having chicken pox as a child and were never vaccinated?  Did your parents forget to have you fully vaccinated against mumps, and you’ve never had the disease but are afraid you might contract it as an adult and could have your fertility adversely affected?

            If any of the above situations, or something similar, applies to you, then talk to your doctor about your concerns.  In most cases, there’s no harm in receiving “childhood” vaccines as an adult, and there can be great benefit for yourself – and all those people with whom you come in contact.
Healthy Travel Tips:
            •  Research in recent years shows the flu virus can “infect” a wider area around a sick person than previously thought.  Coughing, sneezing, or simple breathing can spread flu virus germs six feet or more out from the ill individual.

            Try to put some space between yourself and anyone who is visibly ill, both for your own personal protection and to help prevent spreading the germs even farther should they become attached to your clothing or belongings.
            •  If you must be close to an ill person, such as assigned seating on an airplane, keep an extra (over and above what you need for yourself) clean, unopened pack of tissues, cough drops, and chewable vitamin C with you.  Offer the sick person any or all of these items to help quell coughs, sneezes, and dripping noses and reduce the likelihood of spreading germs.  They’ll feel better by your small act of kindness and concern.  You’ll feel better by doing something helpful and caring, which will raise your immunity naturally.

            Scientific studies widely agree that positive, altruistic actions not only help others, but also reduce stress and improve immunity in the “doers” of good, making them more resistant to disease.
            •  Endeavor to avoid getting overly worried, angry, or sad over travel plans that don’t work out as originally planned.  Reduced personal stress levels not only improve immune response to germs, but also lower blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels – not to mention allows for more enjoyment of the trip, even if it is a little different than the originally pictured scenario.
            Join us in this space during the first week of September 2018, when we’ll delve deeply into the world of Alzheimer’s disease.  In the meantime, get those vaccines and have healthy travels!  Best of health and happiness to you all! 


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