Protect against pneumonia this winter

Did you know that pneumonia is a potentially life-threatening lung infection that should definitely not be underestimated? In fact, one-in-10 Australians aged over 65 years who are hospitalised with pneumonia die from the “killer lung infection”.

As part of Pneumonia Awareness Week, May 28 – June 2, 2019, Lung Foundation Australia are urging all at-risk adults to vaccinate against pneumonia.

The LIV Health team have spoken to leading expert Professor Robert Booy to ask the most important questions you and your loved ones need answered about pneumonia, and how you can protect yourself against this potentially deadly lung infection this winter.

What is pneumonia?

Pneumonia is a broad term used to describe inflammatory lung infections that can be caused by bacteria, viruses or fungi.During normal respiration, air travels through the lungs to the alveoli or air sacs. Pneumonia results when air sacs in the lungs fill with secretions and fluids that obstruct normal air flow.

What are the common symptoms of pneumonia?

Pneumonia symptoms include fever, cough and difficulty breathing and stiffness of the bones and joints.These symptoms can come on quite rapidly, or may develop over one to three days.

How can pneumonia be transmitted?

Pneumonia can be spread through inhaling infected droplets in the air from a cough or sneeze of an infected person. The infection can also be spread through blood (e.g. during birth). Pneumonia can be triggered by a cold or bout of the flu, which allows germs to grow in the air sacs of the lungs.

What different types of pneumonia are there?

There are many different types of pneumonia. One of the most severe and potentially life-threatening forms of pneumonia is pneumococcal pneumonia, which is caused by the bacterium, Streptococcus pneumoniae, and is the only bacterial pneumonia for which vaccination is available. Streptococcus pneumoniae is responsible for approximately 1.6 million deaths each year, world-wide.

Is pneumonia a leading cause of death and illness in Australia?

Pneumonia-like illness is one of the top 10 contributing causes of deaths in Australia.Collectively, pneumonia results in more than 77,000 hospitalisations and 4,000 deaths in Australia each year.

Who is most at-risk of contracting pneumococcal pneumonia?

Pneumococcal pneumonia can affect anyone. Those at higher risk include young children; the elderly (people aged 65 years and over); Indigenous Australians; those with impaired immunity (e.g. HIV, cancer, asplenia, on immunosuppressant medications); tobacco smokers; and people with chronic illnesses including;

  • diabetes
    • lung disease (e.g. COPD which includes emphysema, chronic bronchitis and chronic asthma, and, lung cancer)
    • liver disease
    • heart disease (e.g. heart failure)
    • kidney disease

Anyone with an increased risk of pneumococcal pneumonia should see their doctor to discuss ways to help protect against infection, including vaccination.

      How is pneumonia diagnosed?

Pneumococcal pneumonia is diagnosed by a doctor taking a history and performing a physical exam. Sometimes chest X-ray, and sputum and blood tests might be done.

How is pneumonia treated?

Treatment for pneumonia depends on the age of the individual and the type of infection, but may include:

  • hospital admission for babies, young children and the elderly
  • plenty of fluids taken orally or intravenously
  • antibiotics to kill the infection, if bacteria are the cause
  • medications to relieve pain and reduce fever
  • rest: sitting up is better than lying down

      What is the best way to reduce your risk of acquiring pneumococcal pneumonia?

Vaccination is your best protection against pneumococcal pneumonia. A free pneumococcal vaccine is available from your local GP for those at highest risk of the infection, including over 65s, infants, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, those with impaired immunity, chronic tobacco smokers and people with chronic medical illnesses, such as heart, lung, kidney and liver disease, and diabetes.

Although older Australians are increasingly having an annual flu shot, only one-in-two are vaccinating against pneumococcal pneumonia, leaving them vulnerable to the killer lung infection.

How is the pneumococcal vaccine funded?

The pneumococcal vaccine is provided free under the National Immunisation Program (NIP) Schedule for all Australians aged 65 and above, Indigenous Australians aged 50 years and over, Indigenous Australians aged 15 to 49 years who are medically at risk, and infants under 12 months. A second dose of vaccine is also available to Australians with immunocompromising conditions or chronic disease, or smokers, a minimum of five years following their first dose.

How else can you protect yourself against pneumonia?

In addition to vaccination, practicing good hygiene, such as regular hand-washing and keeping household surfaces clean and covering coughs and sneezes can help prevent the spread of infection. If you feel symptomatic, stay avoid contact with other people, including staying away from schools and workplaces.

For more information about Pneumonia, call Lung Foundation Australia on 1800 654 301 or visit https://knowplanact.lungfoundation.com.au

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