Do you need a pneumonia shot?

May 21, 2001

Do you need a pneumonia shot?


Risk Factors

The streptococcus pneumonia bacteria can cause potentially life-threatening illness including pneumonia - inflammation or infection of the lungs.

Pneumococcal disease kills more people in the United States each year than all other diseases preventable by vaccine.

Some people are at greater risk of getting the disease. Risk factors include:

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> 65 years of age or older

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> chronic illness - heart, lung, kidney and liver disease, diabetes

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> cancer


HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> alcoholism

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> sickle-cell anemia


HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> damaged spleen or no spleen

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Long-term steroid treatment, certain cancer treatments and radiation therapy.

- Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

"I think I had it, but I don't remember exactly when," said Pearl Meyers, 85, at a recent gathering at Park View Knoll, the Williamsport senior center.


Meyers was talking about the pneumonia shot - the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine - that can protect against 23 types of pneumococcal bacteria.

Meyers is not alone. Romaine Utterback can't remember if she had the vaccination, but plans to check with her doctor.

That's a good idea, and it's what Peggy Kemp recommends.

Kemp, disease management case manager for Washington County Hospital, recently talked to seniors at the Williamsport center about pneumococcal vaccine. There had been five admissions to the hospital that day because of pneumonia. Three of the patients were older than 65.

Being 65 or older puts people at increased risk for pneumonia, which occurs when fluid and cells collect in the lungs, causing inflammation or infection, Kemp said.

When they are admitted to the hospital, patients 65 and older are asked if they've had flu or pneumonia vaccinations, Kemp said. They are given informational brochures and advised to discuss vaccination with their doctor. The hospital also faxes information to the patient's physician.

In 2000, 871 of 16,500 patients - 5 percent - admitted to Washington County Hospital had a principal diagnosis of pneumonia, according to information provided by Maureen Theriault, a hospital spokeswoman. Of those 871 patients, 560 were 65 or older.

One patient joked that it should be called "old-monia - not new-monia," Kemp said.

To a large extent, pneumonia could be avoided, said Washington County Health Officer William Christoffel.

The pneumonia vaccine

"We don't know how many people are protected," said Linda Humbert, director of community health nursing for Washington County Health Department.

Health department staff members will be at the Senior Fair Thursday to survey seniors, to try to get a better idea of how many people have had the pneumonia vaccine. Some vaccinations will be available.

If they have not been vaccinated, or if five or more years have lapsed since they were vaccinated, a shot will be recommended.

Humbert advises seniors to check with their physician to see if - or when - they had a pneumonia vaccination.

If you're not sure, "do it again," Kemp said.

There's no harm in getting another shot, Christoffel said.

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