Q. Is there any benefit to revaccinating adults against measles, mumps, whooping cough and other diseases making a comeback?
A. Yes, there are some vaccinations that are recommended for adults, to protect themselves or infants too young for vaccination.
A student at a college with a mumps outbreak, for example, may be asked to get revaccinated to increase protection, because immunity wanes over time, said Dr. Amanda Cohn, a pediatrician and senior adviser for vaccines at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In adulthood, mumps can cause severely swollen glands and testicles as well as aseptic meningitis, which produces such symptoms as fever, headache, stiff neck and vomiting.
The mumps part of the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine is the weak link, said Dr. Cody Meissner, chief of pediatric infectious disease at Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center in Boston and a member of the National Vaccine Advisory Committee, which advises the federal government. “We could use a better mumps vaccine,” he said, though there’s unlikely to be a new one because of the economics of vaccine development.
With measles, anyone who was born after 1957 and received two doses of the measles vaccine in childhood should have lifelong protection, said Dr. Matthew Leibowitz, chief of infectious diseases at Newton-Wellesley Hospital outside Boston. People who are unsure whether they got two shots in childhood should get revaccinated if they are traveling to areas where measles is common, including South America, Asia or Africa, he said. Most Americans who get measles now are unvaccinated or under-vaccinated, Dr. Cohn said, because they grew up in a country where vaccination was not required, chose not to be vaccinated, are too young for vaccination or have compromised immune systems.
Pregnant women are advised to get a vaccine against whooping cough (also known as pertussis, and delivered with a diphtheria and tetanus vaccine) during the third trimester of every pregnancy. That way, their newborn will be protected against the disease during the earliest months of life when it is most dangerous and before it is safe to vaccinate, Dr. Cohn said. The father and close relatives should also be revaccinated, Dr. Meissner said, to provide “cocooning around the infant,” because the disease is now so common and adults might not be aware that they have it.
Other vaccinations recommended for adults include an annual flu shot, a tetanus booster every 10 years, the shingles vaccine and the pneumococcal pneumonia vaccine.
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