According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), close to 1 million Americans end up in the hospital each year due to pneumonia, and 50,000 die from the disease. Even more troubling, these cases of pneumonia infection could have been prevented with vaccines.
Sharp-affiliated infectious disease specialists Dr. Fadi Haddad of Sharp Grossmont Hospital and Dr. Raymond Chinn with Sharp Memorial Hospital answer these five questions about pneumonia, and share their recommendations for prevention.
- What causes pneumonia?
Pneumonia is a medical condition, usually caused by an infection with viruses, bacteria or fungi. It is marked by coughing, fever and trouble breathing. Influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) are common causes of viral pneumonia. The most common cause of bacterial pneumonia is Streptococcus pneumoniae, also called pneumococcus.
- Who is at greatest risk?
Pneumonia is of greatest risk to children under 5, adults over 65, smokers, and those with underlying conditions that lower their immunity such as asthma, cancer, HIV/AIDS, heart disease and diabetes.
- What is the pneumonia vaccine?
There are two available vaccines for pneumonia. Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine, or PCV13, is recommended for children under 5, adults 65 years or older and people with underlying medical conditions. Pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine, or PPSV23, is recommended for all adults 65 years or older and people over age 2 with lowered immunity. Both types of pneumococcal vaccine stimulate the production of antibodies and are very effective at preventing pneumococcal pneumonia, including severe infections.
- When should I be vaccinated?
Generally, if you are a candidate for the vaccine and have never been vaccinated, it is recommended that PCV13 should be administered first, then PPSV23 after eight weeks. For those who have already received the PPSV23, PCV13 is administered after one year. This sequence is to minimize reaction and maximize antibody response.
- Are there any side effects from the vaccine?
Most people vaccinated against pneumonia with PCV13 or PPSV23 experience no side effects, although a few may experience swelling at the site of injection, low-grade fever, muscle aches, headaches and a temporary loss of appetite — all of which are minor and should not cause concern.
Talk with your doctor about whether you are a candidate for one or both of the pneumonia vaccinations, and discuss additional vaccinations, such as the flu shot, that protect you from viruses that can lead to pneumonia.
If you are experiencing signs of pneumonia infection, seek medical help immediately.