As children, our parents take us to the doctor every year, like clockwork.
As we get older, regular checkups often fall by the wayside. But they shouldn't. For adults, checkups, preventative screenings and vaccinations are vital to living healthy, happy lives.
According to Dr. Carolyn Bridges, associate director for adult immunization at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, numerous screening procedures and vaccines are available to adults, but they are often underused. "National vaccination rates are low," she says, "even for vaccines that have been recommended for many years."
As an example, she cites the flu vaccine. During the winter of 2010-2011, only 45 percent of adults between 50 and 64 years old received the vaccine; that number dropped to 31 percent for those ages 18 to 49.
According to Dr. Robin Motter-Mast, chair of of the family medicine department at Greater Baltimore Medical Center, October is a good time to get the flu vaccine. "We're coming into the winter months, when we have an increased viral infection rate," she says. "Receiving your flu vaccine now helps protect you as we enter flu season."
Bridges points out that by forgoing vaccines and routine screenings, adults leave themselves vulnerable to diseases that can be prevented or managed if caught early.
Pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough, is one preventable disease that is on the rise, both nationally and in Maryland. According to the CDC, Between Jan. 1 and Oct. 8 of this year, almost 32,000 cases of pertussis were reported nationwide; 246 were reported in Maryland.
This represents a significant jump from 2011, when total nationwide cases of pertussis were under 19,000.
"Over the past few years, we've seen an increase in pertussis, which causes whooping cough," says GBMC's Motter-Mast. "It's a serious medical condition, especially for three groups: those very young, those with other medical illnesses, and older people, because their immune systems start to decline with age."
The CDC recommends that between the ages of 15 months and 7 years, children get five doses of the DTaP vaccine, which prevents pertussis, diphtheria and tetanus. Adolescents and adults (to age 64) should receive a booster dose of the Tdap vaccine; those over 65 who have never received the Tdap vaccine and have close contact with infants should also be immunized.
Recent CDC data indicate that only 8 percent of adults have received a pertussis booster vaccine.
Many people don't realize which vaccines and screenings are available, says Bridges. But busy lives are often an even bigger barrier to health care.
"It can be hard to take time out for preventative services," she says. "Adults are sometimes better at taking care of their children or work than themselves. But vaccines are an important insurance policy that keeps people well and alert."
To help you keep track of which immunizations adults need and when, we've put together this chart.
For more information on vaccines, visit http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines
For information on recommended screenings for men and women, visit http://womenshealth.gov/screening-tests-and-vaccines