Pneumonia Prevention

Understanding what causes pneumonia, as well as what puts people at a higher risk for developing this respiratory infection, is key to being able to prevent it. By following these tips, you and your family can avoid pneumonia infections.

Easy Ways to Prevent Pneumonia

While you can’t control some of the risk factors for pneumonia, there are some things that you can do to minimize your risk. Prevent pneumonia by:

  • avoiding contact with infected people, including those suffering from the flu, colds and other respiratory infections
  • getting vaccinated
  • keeping up with your vitamins
  • quitting smoking
  • washing your hands regularly.

Pneumonia Vaccines

Thankfully, two types of vaccines can help prevent pneumonia. While the Pneumococcal polysaccharide (PPV) is recommended for seniors age 65 and older, the pneumococcal conjugate is for children under the age of two. Because people who fall within these two age groups have a higher risk for pneumonia, medical experts recommend that they get vaccinated for pneumonia.

Pneumococcal Polysaccharide (PPV)

PPV is a pneumonia vaccine proven to protect adults against pneumonia. Here are the basic facts about this pneumonia vaccine:

  • PPV can prevent infected patients from developing complications like bacteremia (bacteria in the bloodstream) or septicemia (bacteria spread throughout the body). However, PPV is only effective in preventing these complications in patients with strong immune systems under the age of 55.
  • PPV is 90 percent effective and protects recipients for five to 10 years.
  • PPV is recommended for people over the age of 65 and for others with one or more risk factors.

Clearly, anyone over 65 years of age should get PPV. Others who should receive the pneumonia vaccination include those with:

  • AIDS/HIV
  • alcoholism
  • cirrhosis
  • damaged or removed spleens
  • diabetes
  • heart disease
  • Hodgkin’s Disease
  • leaks of cerebrospinal fluid
  • leukemia
  • lung diseases
  • organ transplants
  • sickle cell anemia.

PPV’s effects on pregnant women have not yet been studied. While no data has been found to show PPV is harmful, pregnant women should consult their doctors before receiving this pneumonia vaccination.

Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine

This pneumonia vaccine is for young children susceptible to pneumonia and those who don’t easily heal. Here are the basic facts about this pneumonia vaccine:

  • Full vaccination takes four doses starting at two months of age. Subsequent vaccinations are administered at four months, six months and between 12 and 15 months.
  • Pneumococcal conjugate can prevent pediatric pneumonia complications like meningitis and blood infections.
  • Pneumococcal conjugate is especially recommended for children with increased risk factors, like those suffering from cancer or respiratory infections.

The pneumonia vaccine is also essential for children under age five if they have:

  • AIDS/HIV
  • chronic heart or lung disease
  • diabetes
  • sickle cell anemia
  • take medications for chemotherapy
  • take steroids for medical purposes.

In some cases, doctors may recommend that African American, Alaskan or American Indian children also receive this type of pneumonia vaccine.

Other Recommended Vaccinations

Along with vaccinating for pneumonia, at-risk patients will also want to receive vaccinations for other, related illnesses. Other vaccines to get include:

  • chicken pox vaccinations if you are over 13 years old and have not had chicken pox
  • measles vaccines (Both adults and children should get this vaccinate.)
  • yearly flu vaccinations.

Taking zinc is also recommended, as it can strengthen the immune system. Infants should have 5 mg of zinc per day, and children one to four should have 10 mg per day.

Allergic Reactions to Pneumonia Vaccines

Although vaccination is a good preventative measure against pneumonia, some people are allergic to vaccines. An allergic reaction to pneumonia vaccines can cause:

  • breathlessness
  • difficulty breathing
  • hives.

If you have any of these reactions, call your doctor immediately.

Keep in mind also that children commonly suffer from mild allergic reactions to pneumonia vaccines. Statistics show that:

  • One in four children experiences redness or tenderness at the injection site.
  • One in three gets a fever.
  • Some experience drowsiness.
  • Some experience loss of appetite.

The risk of the vaccine causing a serious reaction or death is extremely rare.

If you have pneumonia, be careful not to spread it to others. Stay home from work or school and avoid others as much as possible. Taking simple precautions to stay healthy is a great way to prevent pneumonia. For those with a higher risk of developing pneumonia and its associated complications, the pneumonia vaccine’s positive outcomes far outweigh possible downsides.

Resources

CDC (2002). Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine, What You Need to Know. Retrieved March 21, 2008, from the CDC Web site.

CDC (1997). Pneumococcal polysaccharide Vaccine, What You Need to Know. Retrieved March 21, 2008, from the CDC Web site.

Drug Infonet (2001). Pneumonia. Retrieved March 21, 2008, from the Drug Infonet.com Web site.

Mayo Clinic (2007). Pneumonia Prevention. Retrieved March 21, 2008, from the Mayo Clinic Web site.

WebMD (2005). Pneumonia – Prevention. Retrieved March 21, 2008, from the WebMD Website.