The body’s immune system becomes less effective as people age, which means older Australians are more likely to catch certain diseases. Recovery from illnesses can also take much longer as a result.
Additionally, as people grow older, they lose their immunity against illnesses that they may have been vaccinated for as a child, such as the flu.
Vaccinations are considered by many as the best way of guarding yourself against serious infections. They are usually simple and safe, and it is estimated that around the world immunisation programs prevent approximately three million deaths each year.
There are three common, but potentially hazardous, diseases older people are at risk of and should consider being vaccinated against:
- influenza (65 years and over)
- pneumococcal disease (65 years and over)
- shingles, also known as herpes zoster (70–79 years)
The flu is a viral infection, the symptoms of which commonly include fever, tiredness, muscle aches, headaches, cough and sweats. It can lead to serious health complications, especially in older people, such as pneumonia (infection of the lungs) and even death.
Yearly vaccination against the flu is recommended for all Australians aged 65 and over and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 and over. Free influenza vaccinations are available for these groups.
Pneumococcal disease or ‘strep’ is an infectious disease that can cause fever, chills and shaking, chest pain, shortness of breath, cough, bloody phlegm and drowsiness. It is a leading cause of death among Australian children under two and people over 85. It can cause a range of illnesses including sinusitis, otitis media, pneumonia, bacteraemia, osteomyelitis, septic arthritis and meningitis.
A vaccine known as Pneumovax is used in older people and is effective against the 23 most common strains of the bacteria that cause the disease in adults. Free pneumococcal disease vaccinations are available for all Australians aged 65 and over.
Shingles (herpes zoster)
Shingles is an extremely painful rash caused by the same virus as the chicken pox. Symptoms include flu-like symptoms (without fever), headaches, sensitivity to light, blisters, itching, tingling and pain. When we have chicken pox as children, the virus stays in the nerve cells and is controlled by the immune system. But as the immune system become less effective as people age, the virus may be reactivated and cause shingles.
The single-dose vaccine against shingles is recommended for all adults aged 60 years and over, unless they are allergic to any of its ingredients or already have a disease that significantly lowers their immunity.
Tetanus and diphtheria
It is recommended that Australians receive booster vaccinations against tetanus and diphtheria at age 50, unless they have already received the vaccine in the previous 10 years.
Have you had all the vaccinations appropriate for your age?
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