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How a Simple Test Can Help Your Vaccines Last a Lifetime

POSTED BY: Florida Hospital

If you’re like many people, you may not have kept detailed records of your vaccinations. You probably received most of them as a child and may have changed health providers more than once since then.

But for your whole health, it’s important to know whether you’re immune from vaccine-preventable illnesses like mumps, tetanus and whooping cough. That’s especially true for those who spend time around people more vulnerable to illness, such as newborns and older adults.

Even if you were vaccinated decades earlier, your resistance to illnesses may decline over time. It’s almost as if your immune system forgets how to fight off a disease and needs to be reminded.

For example, a “booster” shot is recommended every 10 years to maintain your immunity to tetanus and diphtheria.

A simple blood test is all it takes to determine whether you’ve maintained your resistance to vaccine-preventable illnesses.

It’s called a “titer” test (pronounced “tighter”) and it measures your levels of immune system proteins — called “antibodies” — that target specific diseases. If your levels are too low, your body will not recognize the illness if you’re infected, and you may become sick.

Getting a titer test will reveal within days whether your vaccinations are still effective. Florida Hospital Lab Care offers a variety of titer tests to reveal your antibody levels for specific illnesses.

Your family doctor can tell you more about whether a titer test is a good choice to ensure your vaccine protection is still active.

It’s also a great example of making a choice to take control of your health. The CREATION Health philosophy teaches that establishing control over your life through healthy decision-making can support improved health and longevity — in body, mind and spirit.

We’ll tell you how a simple titer test can help keep you healthy.

Getting resistant

To understand how a titer test works, you’ll need a quick primer on why vaccines are effective.

Many of us remember getting chickenpox as children, and know they won’t get it again. That’s because your immune system remembers how to repel the virus that causes chickenpox.
A vaccine is actually a weakened form of a virus, and it teaches your body to fight off the healthy form of the virus, too. Think of it as a practice session for your immune system.

‘Boost’ your defenses

Scientists do not fully understand why some vaccines are effective for life and others require “boosters” to provide resistance as we age. It may be because the immune system cells that “remember” how to fight off infection either die or lose this ability.

The most common example of a repeated vaccine is, of course, for the flu. But the reason you need a new flu vaccine every year is entirely different.

That’s because while other diseases more or less stay the same, the flu virus is constantly changing to target different parts of the immune system. Without the ability to recognize a strain of the flu, your immune system sees it as an entirely new illness and must learn to beat it all over again.

Protect your loved ones

Many of us think of vaccinations as being for children, but maintaining resistance to disease is part of lifelong health. Your immunization needs change throughout every life stage and age, and your primary care physician can guide you along your health journey to help protect you.

Getting vaccinated and ensuring your protection is still effective is about more than staying healthy yourself. It can also protect others around you from getting ill — especially people who are too young, old or sick to be vaccinated themselves. And protecting yourself and others around you is the compassionate thing to do.

This concept is called “herd immunity,” and it describes how viruses cannot spread if nearly all adults are vaccinated. When herd immunity is in effect, the protection of a vaccine is effectively extended to even those who aren’t vaccinated.

Declining rates of vaccinations for whooping cough have led to some outbreaks, and infant deaths, in recent years. That’s why all pregnant women are immunized for whooping cough, and why it’s a good idea for anyone who will be around an infant.

There is also a vaccine for those who have never had chickenpox. It’s recommended to prevent the spread of the illness, which is relatively harmless for most children but deadly to kids whose immune system isn’t working as effectively for a variety of reasons.

Ask Your Doctor

You may need to know your immunity levels for medical reasons, especially if you’re going to be working with infants or older adults. 

But asking your primary care provider about a titer test is a great way to take control of your health and take satisfaction from the knowledge that you’re taking steps to guard your whole health. It will give you peace of mind knowing you’re protecting others, too.

For more information about Florida Hospital Lab Care, call (407) 200-2020, or visit the Lab Care website.