STATEPOINT — Now, more than ever, you’re likely acutely aware of the importance of helping protect your lung health. As you return to doing the things you love, it’s essential to understand the risk for pneumococcal pneumonia, a potentially serious lung infection that can strike anyone at any time.
Older adults are at greater risk of serious illness and death resulting from pneumococcal pneumonia compared to younger adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
To give you the facts you need to help protect yourself, the American Lung Association is partnering with Pfizer to raise awareness about the risk of pneumococcal pneumonia for adults 65 and older.
When words begin with “pneumo” it means related to the lungs, and a pneumonia is an infection in one or both lungs, which you can get from bacteria, viruses or fungi. This infection causes the air sacs in your lungs to fill with fluid or pus, which makes the gas exchange that supplies your body with oxygen more difficult. It also can result in a host of uncomfortable and potentially serious symptoms.
Pneumococcal pneumonia, the most common type of bacterial pneumonia, is caused by bacteria that can be spread through coughing and close contact with an infected person. Common symptoms include high fever, excessive sweating, shaking chills, coughing, difficulty breathing, shortness of breath and chest pain. Certain symptoms, such as cough and fatigue, can appear quickly and without warning and severe cases can lead to hospitalization and even be potentially life threatening.
Risk factors and protection
The immune system naturally weakens with age, making age a risk factor regardless of health status.
“Even healthy adults aged 65 and older are over 10 times more likely to be hospitalized with pneumococcal pneumonia than those aged 18-49,” says Albert Rizzo, MD, chief medical officer, American Lung Association. “If you also live with a chronic lung disease like COPD, asthma, diabetes or chronic heart disease, you face a greater risk.”
Dr. Rizzo speaks on behalf of the American Lung Association when he encourages all adults 65 and older to speak with their doctor about vaccination. But he knows all too well that there are disparities among who is most likely to be protected against this potentially serious lung infection. While the overall vaccination rate among adults 65 and older was 59 percent in 2017, only 42 percent of Latino/Hispanic individuals were vaccinated. And with only 45 percent percent of Black adults and 56 percent of Asian adults vaccinated, the gap in coverage has potentially serious consequences for communities of color.
Additionally, Latino and Black Americans are at greater risk of developing chronic health conditions such as asthma and diabetes compared to white Americans, which further increases their risk of getting pneumococcal pneumonia.
If you are 65 or older, talk to your healthcare provider about pneumococcal pneumonia vaccination, which is available at many doctor’s offices and local pharmacies. You can also learn more at Lung.org/pneumococcal, where you can take a free personal risk assessment quiz.
Don’t ignore pneumococcal pneumonia. Get the facts you need to help protect yourself.