Pneumonia is a leading cause for people checking into the hospital across the United States. According to the Centers Control and Prevention (CDC), one out of every 20 adults who gets it will die.
But two pneumonia vaccines can protect those most vulnerable to the illness.
“I tell my patients that pneumonia can be a very serious lung infection that can cause serious complications, including hospitalization and death, and that it’s particularly risky for people who have other chronic medical conditions,” said Jennie Kerley, a physician assistant at Novant Health Mountainview Medical in King. “It’s more common in older people, which is why we recommend the vaccine for all adults age 65 and older. We also sometimes recommend the pneumonia vaccine in patients younger than 65 if they have other chronic medical conditions.”
Geriatric family medicine specialist Dr. Joel Edwards of Novant Health Davie Medical Associates in Mocksville agreed.
“Generally, there are two groups of people who should get the pneumonia vaccine – all adults over the age of 65 and people under the age of 65 who smoke or have certain chronic illnesses like asthma, diabetes or heart disease,” Edwards said.
Pneumonia is an infection of one or both of the lungs caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi or chemical irritants. It is a serious infection or inflammation in which the lungs’ air sacs fill with pus and other liquid. According to the American Lung Association, pneumonia is a common complication of respiratory infection – especially the flu.
“Pneumonia can very rapidly become a life-threatening illness,” Edwards said.
Adults 65 and older are at greatest risk, as aging starts to change the immune system. Lifestyle factors such as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption and undernourishment can also raise your risk.
“The current recommendation for adults who don’t smoke or have chronic illness is to receive the Prevnar 13 vaccine at age 65,” Edwards said. “Once they have received the Prevnar 13 vaccine, it is recommended they receive the second pneumonia vaccine, Pnuemovax23, 12 months later.” Unlike flu, there is no need for an annual vaccine.
For those under 65 who smoke or have a certain chronic illness, it is recommended they receive the Pneumovax23 vaccine at the time their chronic illness is diagnosed. Once they reach 65, they should follow the recommendation for adults over 65, Edwards said.
“The bottom line is these vaccines work,” Edwards said. “They prevent people from getting pneumonia, and they do save lives.”
Novant Health is participating in the North Carolina Healthcare Association’s Pneumonia Knockout Campaign– a two-year effort to reduce pneumonia mortality and readmission rates in North Carolina.
Kerley said that Novant Health Mountainview Medical offers the vaccines and that patients who may be at risk can talk to their primary care provider about their options.