Written in collaboration with Dr. Trupti Gilada, with additional inputs from Dr. Agam Vora, Dr. Raja Dhar and Dr. Shashank Joshi
A recent paper from the UK  headed by Dr. Rutendo Muzambi, studied 989,800 people between 2004 and 2018, above the age of 65 years without dementia, with at least one episode of documented infection. Their results showed an increasing incidence of cognitive decline and dementia even after just one infection event.
This is just one of the many ill-effects of contracting infections as we age. Long Covid has received a lot of press, but the same is also true of other infections, many of which can produce significant morbidity in the short, medium and long term and sometimes even cause death. I have a friend for example, who has long-dengue with severe myopathy, persistent 3 years after the episode.
In our quest to be atmasvasth, to live long, healthy, it is important to not get infected.
Though, unlike the situation, just 80 years ago, when there was no way to effectively treat infections, we now have antibiotics, antivirals, antifungals and anti-parasitic medicines that can take care of most infections quite effectively. Nevertheless, preventing the infection from occurring in the first place is a far better option than treating it, something we have learnt the hard way during this Covid-19 pandemic.
In adults, apart from good personal hygiene, clean water, proper sanitation, hygienic food and drink and mosquito free environments, the other element that makes a difference is vaccination against vaccine preventable infections (VPIs). Vaccines help us be atmanivaaran, to protect ourselves from being infected and if we do get infected, then having minimal to mild disease. The common VPIs are influenza (common flu), Streptococcal (Pneumococcal) pneumonia, varicella (chicken-pox), herpes zoster and the triad of diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus.
Good data on incidence and prevalence of these diseases is hard to come by in India, especially in those above 50, but we know anecdotally that the flu and pneumococcal pneumonia are common and the older the patient, the worse the outcome.
Unfortunately, most of us believe that vaccines are for children. Our pediatricians and family physicians tell us what our kids have to take and when, and all we have to do is make sure they show up…and it all just gets taken care of. As adults, we only think of vaccines when we have to travel to say East Africa and we need a yellow fever shot, or if we have been bitten by a dog and need an anti-rabies injection or when we go for an anti-tetanus jab if scratched by a dirty nail or injured while playing outdoors.
It is only with Covid-19, that vaccination against infections in adults has entered our consciousness. Just as we focussed on the at-risk population with co-morbidities and those over 65 during the earlier months of vaccination, so also, we need to take vaccines against the common VPIs, once we turn 50.
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