By Chelle Cordero

December 12, 2016 4 min read

From birth to old age, our bodies need to be tended to and cared for. Fortunately, medical science makes it a little bit easier to stay ahead of problems that might arise. Vaccines can help prevent disease and diagnostic tests can catch conditions before they go too far. You have to be proactive, though, and make sure that you have taken all the precautions you can.

A vaccine is normally administered by injection, ingestion or inhalation and causes the body to produce protective antibodies to a disease and help provide immunity. In every state in the U.S., vaccines against the following diseases are required to enter kindergarten: diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis; polio; and measles and rubella. Depending on individual states, there are other mandatory childhood vaccinations as well: for varicella (chickenpox), hepatitis B, haemophilus influenza type B, hepatitis A and meningococcal disease. Also, depending on the individual state, there are some medical, religious and philosophical exemptions permitted. Additional recommended vaccinations for children as they mature into adolescence include yearly flu vaccines; the human papillomavirus vaccine; the pneumococcal vaccine; and a booster dose of the meningococcal conjugate vaccine (at around age 16).

Adults also need to get vaccines, such as yearly flu shots and a Tdap booster. As we age further, our immune systems tend to weaken. Older adults are more prone to infections and illnesses such as pneumonia, so they should receive pneumococcal vaccines. Very often, even when adults get annual flu vaccines, they don't always get the pneumonia vaccine and thus leave themselves open to dangerous infections.

It's recommended that adults 60 or older get the zoster vaccine to help to prevent shingles, which can be caused by the varicella virus left in their systems from chickenpox.

People who have chronic health conditions such as heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, renal disorders, cancers, lung disorders and others should speak to their doctors to find out which vaccines are strongly recommended and, in a few rare cases, not recommended. It's important for people with such conditions not to compromise their systems by lowering their bodies' defenses.

Both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetics experience abnormalities in immune function, even if their glycemic control is good. The flu vaccine is highly recommended for all diabetics. Other vaccines for diabetics, if they don't already have immunity, include the zoster vaccine, HPV vaccine (for people ages 9-26) and varicella (for those born in 1980 or after). Heart disease patients also benefit from routine vaccinations; heart disease can make it harder to fight off certain diseases or make it likelier that there will be serious complications.

Diagnostic screening is another major tool to help prevent and fight disease. Medicare recommends certain tests for all older adults, such as cardiovascular cholesterol screening, mammograms, osteoporosis screening to monitor bone density, colorectal screening and glaucoma testing. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends abdominal aortic aneurysm screening for men ages 65 to 75; Type 2 diabetes screening for adults with sustained high blood pressure; and pap tests and pelvic exams for women ages 21 to 65. Men at age 40 should talk to their doctors about prostate cancer screening. With regard to a patient's age, sex, health history and any prominent risk factors, doctors may recommend additional routine screening.

Be proactive about your health. Vaccinations and screenings are key steps toward ensuring a healthy, productive life.

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