Pneumonia kills more people in the United States each year than all other vaccine preventable diseases combined. If an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, it certainly applies to the pneumonia vaccination.
Pneumococcal disease causes a lot of pain. Anyone can get a pneumococcal disease; however, some people are at greater risk. High risk cases are people 65 and older, the very young, people with special health problems such as alcoholism, heart or lung disease, kidney failure, diabetes, HIV infection and certain types of cancer.
“Pneumonia is not that common, but these people should get the vaccine,” said Lt. Col. Gina Dorlac, Landstuhl Regional Medical Center pulmonologist. “Many people need only one shot, which protects them for a lifetime. However, some people might need to get a booster shot after five years.”
The problem with pneumonia is that symptoms mirror those of bronchitis. The only way to prove pneumonia is with a chest x-ray, which reveal fluids within lung tissue.
“We all get colds in the winter and the symptoms all start out the same,” she said. “But in time, pneumonia will reveal itself.”
Symptoms to watch out for include shortness of breath, painful breathing, persistent colored phlegm (lasting three to five days with no sign of improvement), coughing up blood and maintaining a fever.
“It is important to diagnose it quickly to avoid a delay in treatment,” said Colonel Dorlac. “You could develop a fatal bloodstream infection, infections in the fluid around the lung, which can require surgery, and meningitis.”
Drugs such as penicillin were once effective in treating these infections, but the disease has become more resistant to these drugs, making treatment of pneumococcal infections more difficult. This makes prevention of the disease through vaccination even more important.
The shot is very safe and does not make you sick. Some people get a little swelling and soreness where they get the shot, but that usually goes away in a day or two.
There is no particular “pneumonia season” as is the case with influenza. Autumn rolls around and seemingly everyone rushes to get the flu shot. With pneumonia, it’s more important to determine whether you fall in the high-risk category. If so, see a primary care physician and ask about getting the vaccine, said Colonel Dorlac.