Vaccination is one of the most effective ways of preventing infectious disease.
The following vaccinations are recommended in adolescents or adults. Recommended schedules alter in different states and change with time, so ask your GP what you should have.
- Human papillomavirus (HPV)
- Hepatitis B
- Varicella (chickenpox)
- Diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (whooping cough)
- Influenza (flu)
There are more than 100 types of HPV, including the viruses responsible for common warts, plantar (foot) warts and genital warts.
About 40 HPV types are sexually transmitted and affect the genital tract. Most people become infected soon after becoming sexually active, with around 80 per cent of people infected with at least one genital type of HPV at some stage in their life. Because it is so common, doctors often call it the ‘common cold of sexually transmitted infections’.
These infections usually have no symptoms; you don’t usually get warts, and usually your body just gets rid of the infection with time. However, infection can cause genital warts, cervical cancer (and its precursors) and some other genital tract cancers.
There are currently 15 types of HPV that are designated as ‘high risk’ for the development of cervical cancer. The progression from HPV infection to cervical cancer can take a number of years.
HPV vaccination immunises girls (and boys) at 10 to 15 years of age, before they become sexually active, against the high-risk type 16 and 18 HPVs. The process involves three doses of HPV vaccine over six months.
Hepatitis B is one of several different viruses that can cause liver infections and damage. It can be spread from an infected person through sexual contact, sharing of saliva and open-wound contact, sharing drug-injecting equipment, toothbrushes or razors, needle-stick injury, mother-to-baby contact and blood transfusions (not usually in Australia).
From May 2000, all babies born in Australia should have received hepatitis B vaccination as a routine childhood vaccination. However, vaccination of adolescents at 10 to 13 years of age is recommended for those who did not receive a primary course of hepatitis B vaccine as a child.
It is also recommended that the following non-vaccinated adults are vaccinated:
- those who have household and sexual contact with people with hepatitis B
- people on kidney dialysis
- people with liver disease or hepatitis C
- residents and staff of facilities for people with intellectual disabilities
- prison inmates
- HIV-positive people and others with impaired immunity
- injecting drug users
- people who come into contact with bodily fluid as part of their work, such as healthcare workers, childcare workers, tattooists and body piercers.
Varicella is a highly contagious infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus. The disease is spread by direct contact with people who are infected.
In healthy children, it is usually a mild disease that lasts a short time. However, it is often more serious in adults and may cause serious and even fatal complications in people of any age.
Varicella vaccination is given as a routine childhood vaccination (starting in late 2005 for 18-month-old children). However, varicella vaccination is recommended for adolescents at 10 to 13 years if there is no history of chickenpox or vaccination.
It is also recommended that the following adults are vaccinated if they are not immune:
- women planning for pregnancy
- healthcare workers
- those who have household contact with people with impaired immunity.
Diphtheria is an illness caused by a bacterium that is spread by droplets or direct contact with contaminated wounds and materials. Diphtheria is fatal in 7 per cent of people who contract it.
Tetanus is caused by a bacterium contracted from the environment (usually soil or manure) to open wounds, where it can enter the bloodstream. You do not catch tetanus from other people. Tetanus is often fatal.
Pertussis (whooping cough) is caused by a bacterium that is highly infectious and spread through droplets in the air. It is most serious in babies under the age of 12 months. Most babies who get pertussis get it from their parents or close carers.
Symptoms include coughing and ‘whooping’ (the sound that the person makes as they’re trying to draw in breath in after a bout of coughing), which can continue for months. Complications include pneumonia and hypoxic encephalopathy (lack of oxygen to the brain), leading to brain damage and possibly death.
Combined diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis immunisation has been given as a routine childhood vaccination since the 1950s.
It is recommended that a booster dose of diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis be given at:
- 15 to 17 years
- 50 years unless you have had it in the previous 10 years.
To protect babies against pertussis, it is also recommended that a booster dose is given to women planning pregnancy, unless they have had a booster dose in the previous five years.
If this is missed, parents can receive the vaccine free of charge through the Parent's whooping cough vaccine program. Under the program, pregnant women can be given the vaccine during each pregnancy from 28 weeks. Their partners are also eligible if they have not received a pertussis booster in the previous 10 years. Parents and guardians of babies under six months of age are also eligible if they have not received it in the past 10 years.
Influenza (flu) is caused by two types of viruses in humans (influenza A and B), which have many strains (or subtypes). It is spread easily between people through infected droplets in the air or from contact with the droplets on surfaces. Complications from the flu (such as pneumonia) cause many thousands of deaths in Australia every year.
Influenza viruses change very easily, so every year different strains cause the majority of flu. The components of the annual influenza vaccine change every year depending on what is believed will be the major strains likely to cause disease that year (for example, based on Northern Hemisphere flu season and circulating strains).
This means that people at risk need the influenza vaccine every year. People at increased risk of complications from flu include:
- everyone 65 years and older
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people 15 years and older
- people over six months of age with conditions predisposing to severe influenza (such as heart and lung disease)
- pregnant women.
People who may potentially transmit influenza to those at risk should also be immunised, including healthcare workers, staff at nursing homes and family members of people who are at high risk.
Pneumococcal vaccination gives protection against invasive pneumococcal disease (IPD), which is caused by a bacterium commonly carried in the respiratory tract. IPD can cause pneumonia, blood infection, meningitis and death.
The vaccine is given as a routine childhood vaccination, which should have been received by all Australian children born from 2003 onwards.
People at increased risk of IPD should also be vaccinated. These include:
- everyone 65 years and older
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people 50 years and older
- those with underlying medical conditions
- those without a spleen.
Related Health Topics
This information is for women who are planning pregnancy, are pregnant or have recently given birth. When you go home with your baby, we strongly suggest that both parents, other adult household members, grandparents and carers of your baby are adequately vaccinated against whooping cough (pertussis).
- Whooping cough
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