You often hear the phrase, “cold and flu season,” but when it comes to pneumonia, there is no season.
Pneumonia is a disease that can strike at any time, and in some cases, it can be deadly.
It’s estimated about 1 million people in the United States infected with pneumococcal pneumonia seek care in a hospital each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Of those people hospitalized, about 50,000 die. Most of those affected are adults.
What is pneumonia?
Many people are unclear about what’s meant by a diagnosis of pneumonia. It’s not just a bad cold or bronchitis.
Pneumonia is a lung infection caused by bacteria, viruses or fungi that enter the lungs, causing the air sacs to fill with fluid. Inflammation results and produces the symptoms of pneumonia – cough, fever, difficulty breathing. With bronchitis, instead of the air sacs being affected like they are with pneumonia, the bronchial tubes become inflamed, which restricts air flow, according to the CDC.
Similar to the flu or even a cold, pneumonia can be spread through coughing, sneezing and touching surfaces that may be infested with germs. And, according to the American Lung Association, pneumonia can be a complication of a severe case of flu.
The risk, diagnosis and treatment
Pneumonia is more serious – and potentially deadly – in infants, adults over 65 and people with existing health conditions or a weakened immune system.
In addition to a health care provider taking a thorough history and conducting a physical exam, pneumonia can be diagnosed with tests used to look at the lungs, blood tests and analyzing cough-produced sputum.
Treatment depends on the type of pneumonia. In general, people improve within one to three weeks. Antibiotics can be used for bacterial pneumonia and other treatment includes fluids, rest, oxygen therapy and medicine for cough and fever.
Getting vaccinated for pneumococcal pneumonia is the best defense against becoming ill. And since pneumonia can be a complication of flu, getting an annual flu shot is also a good rule of thumb, according to Dr. David Jones of OSF HealthCare Medical Group – Family Medicine in Normal.
OSF HealthCare follows the guidelines of the CDC regarding pneumonia vaccinations.
Dr. Jones said there are two types of vaccine. The first vaccine is the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13). The second vaccine is the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23).
“Healthy adults under the age of 65 don’t need either one,” he said. “However, depending on your health, you might need to get both to protect yourself from pneumonia and any possibly dangerous complications.”
The PCV13 vaccine is given to infants in a series of shots until the age of 15 months. The U.S. government recommends a person receive one dose between the age of 6 and 18. Between the ages of 19 and 64, anybody with a blood disorder, a damaged or missing spleen, a compromised immune system, kidney disease or cancer, should get this vaccine.
“At age 65, everyone should get this vaccine and follow it up with a dose of the other pneumonia vaccine (PPSV23) type at least one year later,” Dr. Jones said.
Like the other vaccine type, the PPSV23 vaccine should be given to all people age 65 or older.
“Also, anyone age 19 or older who is a smoker, or who has asthma, should get this vaccine,” he said. “People between the ages of 2 and 64 should get this vaccine, too, if they have heart disease, lung disease, sickle cell anemia, diabetes, alcoholism, a compromised immune system, a damaged or missing spleen or cancer.”
Making the push to get vaccinated
“We’re trying to get as many people who meet the criteria vaccinated to prevent community-acquired pneumonia,” Dr. Jones said. “Pneumonia can strike any time of the year, so this is a year-round effort on our part.
“We believe it’s important to be vaccinated,” he said. “It’s for the prevention of a very serious disease. If there’s ever any questions, a person should contact their primary care provider and discuss what options are best for them.”