Pneumonia Vaccine for High Risk Groups

The American Lung Association Encourages High Risk Groups To Seek Out A Pneumonia Vaccine

In Light of A Flu Vaccine Shortage, elderly and people with chronic illnesses can help mitigate a deadly flu complication: pneumonia

November 8, 2004

New York, NY - Sometimes complications from the flu can lead to pneumonia . With the recent flu vaccine shortage in the U.S. those at high risk for the flu should ask their doctor for a pneumonia vaccine to help protect their health this winter.

Pneumonia, a serious infection resulting in inflammation of the lungs, usually occurs when a person's defense system is weakened in some way, such as the flu. People at highest risk for pneumonia are those 65 years or older, post-operative patients, people with chronic illnesses such as lung disease, and those living in a nursing home or other chronic care facility.

For this reason, the pneumococcal pneumonia vaccine is suggested for these highest risk populations. This type of pneumonia is responsible for about 30 percent of pneumonia you can catch outside an institutional setting such as a nursing home or hospital. Pneumococcal pneumonia is the single most common organism causing community-acquired pneumonia. Unlike the flu vaccine the pneumonia vaccine does not need to be administered every year. Consult your primary care physician to find out whether you have previously been vaccinated and if so when you may need to be vaccinated again. Pneumonia vaccines are available and there are no reports of a supply shortage.

Aside from flu-like symptoms such as fever, dry cough, headache, muscle pain and weakness pneumonia symptoms include chest pain, chills with shaking, mucus producing cough, excessive sweating and rapid heart beat, sore throat, and difficulty breathing or rapid breathing which may result in bluish-lips due to lack of oxygen. "It's important that people at risk for pneumonia get protection in some way, especially if they are unable to get the flu shot," said Norman H. Edelman, M.D., director of scientific affairs for the American Lung Association.

The elderly are the group hardest hit by pneumonia each year. In 2002 close to 65,000 people died from pneumonia, 90 percent of those deaths were in those 65 years or older. One of the reasons the elderly are encouraged by doctors and the public health community to get a flu vaccine is because pneumonia can be a deadly complication of the flu. With the inability of many to get their flu vaccine this year, a pneumonia vaccine may be an option for some. Those 65 years or older who have been able to get a flu vaccine should also get a pneumonia vaccine for added health protection.

Early diagnosis and effective treatment are key for overcoming pneumonia. If you experience symptoms of pneumonia call your health care provider immediately. A hospital stay or recovery at home may be recommended and you should continue to take the medicine your health care provider prescribed until you are told to stop.

Source: American Lung Association press release, November 8, 2004,

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Last Editorial Review: 11/15/2004