(StatePoint) Pneumonia can strike anywhere and anytime, the American Lung Association reminds us. A serious, potentially life-threatening lung infection, pneumonia is primarily caused by viruses, bacteria or fungi that are transmitted from one person to another. The most common type of bacterial pneumonia is pneumococcal pneumonia.
Pneumococcal pneumonia can be serious
If you are 65 or older, your risk of being hospitalized after getting pneumococcal pneumonia is 13 times greater than for younger adults aged 18 – 49, and for those requiring hospitalization, they have an average hospital stay of six days. In severe cases, pneumococcal pneumonia can lead to death. Symptoms typically have an abrupt onset and may include coughing, difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, chest pain, high fever, excessive sweating and shaking chills.
It doesn’t happen only during winter
Pneumococcal pneumonia is not a cold or the flu; you can get it any time of the year. Although rates of pneumococcal pneumonia tend to increase in the fall and winter months, cold air does not cause pneumonia, including pneumococcal pneumonia. Pneumococcal pneumonia can be spread by coughing or close contact with an infected person, no matter the season.
Even healthy adults are at increased risk
One of the most important things to know is that for adults, risk increases with age as our immune system weakens and can’t respond as effectively to infection. Which means that otherwise healthy and active adults are at increased risk for pneumococcal pneumonia.
Chronic health conditions can lead to increased risk
Other factors, like your lifestyle and certain chronic health conditions, can also increase your risk. Smoking, alcoholism and certain chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or a suppressed immune system, increase your risk for pneumococcal pneumonia. In fact, for adults 65 and older living with COPD, the risk for contracting pneumococcal pneumonia is 7.7 times higher than their healthy counterparts, and those with asthma are at 5.9 times greater risk.
The good news
You may be able to reduce your personal risk. As a preventive healthcare measure, vaccines work by teaching the body’s immune system to recognize and defend against harmful viruses or bacteria before getting an infection, and reduce the chance of getting certain infectious diseases. But rates of vaccination among U.S. adults remain low, lagging well behind expert recommendations and federal goals. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends that all adults 65 years or older receive pneumococcal vaccination.
If you are 65 or older, talk to your doctor to see if you are up to date on your CDC-recommended adult vaccinations, and take a personal risk assessment at Lung.org/pneumococcal, developed by the American Lung Association in partnership with Pfizer.
This year, brush up on the signs and risk factors of pneumococcal pneumonia, as well as strategies for prevention, particularly as you age.