Importance of Fending Off Pneumococcal Disease

If you have lung disease, getting a flu shot is probably a part of your annual routine (or should be). But did you know that you may need a pneumococcal vaccination as well?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends pneumococcal vaccination for everyone age 65 and older and for adults under 65 who smoke or have chronic lung disease or certain other medical conditions. A vaccine that has been available for 30 years has traditionally been administered. But a newer vaccine that may be more effective is now available; at the same time, it's not recommended for everyone.

The CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recently proposed recommendations regarding the use of both vaccines, and the CDC is expected to adopt those recommendations. Talk to your health care provider to find out why you need the vaccination if you have lung disease—and which vaccine you should get.

Not just for pneumonia

Many people think of the pneumococcal vaccination as a "pneumonia shot." That's because it guards against community-acquired pneumonia caused by a type of bacteria known as Streptococcus pneumoniae (also referred to as pneumococcus).

But vaccination also helps protect you from invasive pneumococcal disease—a serious infection in the bloodstream (bacteremia) or the brain and spinal cord (meningitis)—which is also caused by S. pneumoniae.

Infection with S. pneumoniae is a grave concern because it is a substantial cause of illness and death, particularly in the very young and in older adults. By some estimates, community-acquired pneumonia is responsible for 302,000 hospitalizations yearly in individuals over age 65. Moreover, it is the fifth leading cause of death in people in this age group.

In addition, more than 50,000 cases of invasive pneumococcal disease occur annually in the U.S., resulting in more than 5,000 deaths, nearly all of which occur in adults.

Publication Review By: Peter B. Terry, M.D., M.A.

Published: 08 Aug 2013

Last Modified: 08 Aug 2013