Editorial by Roberta Herman, MD, Senior VP and Chief Medical Officer, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care
Pneumonia is an infection or inflammation of the smallest air passages in the lungs, causing these passages to fill up with mucus. When this happens the lungs are unable to function properly. Symptoms of pneumonia include fever, chills, cough, and breathing difficulties. For older adults and those persons who have a chronic illness or weakened immune system, pneumonia is a serious and sometimes life-threatening condition.
Pneumonia can be caused by a variety of bacteria or viruses. Over half the cases of pneumonia are caused by the pneumococcus bacterium and, thus, called pneumococcal pneumonia. This type of pneumonia is a common complication of the flu. People who are sick with the flu have weaker body defenses allowing bacteria such as pneumococcus to more easily reach the lungs. Flu is a very preventable illness and you can help protect yourself by getting a flu shot every fall.
In addition to flu shots, there is a pneumococcal vaccine beneficial in preventing severe disease, hospitalization and death. You can protect yourself from pneumococcal pneumonia by receiving the pneumococcal vaccine.
Who should get the pneumococcal shot?
- People aged 65 or older
- Individuals with chronic illnesses of the lungs, heart, liver, and kidneys
- Individuals with health conditions such as diabetes or sickle cell disease
- Individuals who are unable to fight off infections as a result of cancer, organ transplant, HIV/AIDS, or drugs or treatments that weaken the immune system.
Most people will only need to receive one pneumococcal shot to protect them for a lifetime. If you receive the immunization before age 65, or have certain medical conditions, you may require a second dose. The pneumococcal vaccination can be given anytime during the year. You can check with your physician to ask if the pneumococcal vaccine is right for you.
This information provided by the Group Insurance Commission.