By Dr. Amy Johnson, DNP, FNP-C
They say an apple a day keeps the doctor away. While I am not in a position to attest to the validity of old wives’ tales, there is something to be said about the benefits of preventative healthcare in the agricultural community. Too many times, healthcare is an afterthought and is only considered after an injury or illness has occurred. However, in agriculture the annual risk of injury is significant and with an aging farm and ranch population, the possibility of an incapacitating illness is also very real.
Injury and illness prevention should be considered a priority. Immunizations are an important component of preventative healthcare. Below are several that are important to keep up-to-date.
Tetanus with or without Pertussis —Tetanus is a bacterial infection that is found in the soil and animal feces and enters the body through wounds. It can cause severe muscle contractions that affect breathing. Pertussis is a bacterium that causes a respiratory infection best known for severe cough. Adults can carry pertussis and spread it to young babies who don’t have the reserve to fight the disease. Adults should get a tetanus booster every 10 years and a pertussis booster at least once after initial vaccination.
Pneumonia —Bacterial pneumonia, commonly caused by a bacteria called S. pneumonia, can cause fever, chills, chest pain, back pain, shortness of breath, rapid heart rate and weakness. Untreated, it can cause a severe infection called sepsis that requires hospitalization. All adults age 65 and over should get at least one pneumonia vaccine followed by a booster five years later. In certain circumstances, a second pneumonia vaccine may be indicated.
Influenza —The flu is a highly contagious viral illness that causes sudden onset of fever, chills, headache, body aches and cough. Most people recover in seven to 10 days but some have lingering symptoms for several weeks. Potential complications include pneumonia, inflammation of the heart muscle, fluid buildup in the lungs and death. Everyone six months and older should get a flu shot in the fall of every year.
COVID-19 —There can’t be a discussion about immunizations at this time without discussing COVID-19. There are two vaccines approved for use in the U.S., both of which use mRNA technology to create an antibody response in the body. When the vaccine is given, it provides instructions to the body to make the spike protein, found on the outside of the virus, which the body then creates antibodies against. Each of the vaccines have to be given in two doses, three to four weeks apart.
Recently, a single-dose COVID-19 vaccine received emergency use authorization. This vaccine uses a different type of technology, whereby a separate, deactivated virus is used to get DNA from the spike protein in the human cell and generate an antibody response. This vaccine is considered to be as effective at preventing hospitalizations and death as the vaccines currently being used. Agricultural workers are considered essential workers and fall into Category 1b of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classification, which means they are in one of the earliest groups eligible for vaccination.
Preventative healthcare is an important consideration for farmers and their families to help mitigate some of the risk of injury and illness associated with the farming industry. Staying-up-to date on immunizations is a small part of this but is easy to maintain, as you can often get immunizations at many pharmacies or local health departments.
Dr. Amy Johnson, DNP, FNP-C, is a family nurse practitioner in primary care in Bedford County, Virginia. She’s also a certified AgriSafe provider, a Farm Bureau member in Virginia and a member of the American Farm Bureau’s Grassroots Outreach (GO) Team.
This column was published as an educational resource for Ag Safety Awareness Program (ASAP) Week, Feb. 28-March 6. U.S. Agricultural Safety and Health Centers joined Farm Bureau in promoting ag safety this week with the theme “Driving Safety Home.”