Thursday, June 18, 2015

Understanding Pneumococcal Disease

Pneumococcal disease, known more commonly as “pneumonia,” is an acute bacterial infection of the lungs and it is the leading cause of vaccine-preventable deaths in the United States. The most common causes of pneumonia include a buildup of Streptococcus pneumoniae bacterium in the air sacs of the lungs, a virus, a fungus or a parasite. It can affect just one lobe of either lung, a whole lung or both lungs at the same time, and the infection generally lasts about two weeks unless other health complications are present. Pneumonia is often thought of as a cold weather disease, but it can occur at any time of year.

Symptoms of pneumonia can include:

  • Chest pain
  • Coughing resulting in only a small amount of mucous
  • Diarrhea
  • Enlarged lymph nodes in the neck
  • Fatigue
  • Fever, with or without chills
  • Heavy sweating
  • Mental confusion
  • Muscle aches
  • Nausea
  • Sore throat
  • Vomiting

A healthy person’s immune system can usually fend off the germs associated with pneumonia, but those with weaker or compromised immune systems – including people age 65 years and older, those suffering from the flu, smokers and people who have a chronic illness like hypertension, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or asthma – are at a higher risk for contracting it.

Fortunately, different vaccines exist to help protect those with strong or weak immune systems from contracting the pneumococcal disease. In most cases, only one dose of a vaccine is needed to protect against pneumonia. The pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) is recommended for all infants and toddlers as well as for adults 19 years and older who have immune system problems, cerebrospinal fluid issues, cochlear implants or have a damaged or removed spleen. The pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV) protects against 23 types of pneumococcal bacteria. Receiving a pneumococcal vaccine is an important and essential step against preventing pneumococcal infection.

If you have not been vaccinated against pneumonia or are not sure, speak to your primary care physician about scheduling an appointment for vaccination. If you don’t have a primary care physician, visit or call 443-849-GBMC (4262) to find one who is right for you.

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