Doctor’s Tip: No need to risk death from pneumonia
Pneumonia is a serious lung infection, caused by viruses and bacteria. Even in this age of antibiotics, people still die from pneumonia, those at most risk being infants and young children; adults 65 and older; people with conditions such as alcoholism, smoking or diabetes; those without a spleen; those on chronic steroids or other causes of a weakened immune system.
Community acquired pneumonia refers to pneumonia that occurs outside of institutions such as hospitals and nursing homes. The most common cause of CAP is the pneumococcus bacteria, which can also cause other life-threatening infections such as meningitis and blood infections.
Pneumococcal pneumonia often occurs as a complication from a cold or other viral respiratory infection. If you have a cold (or even if you don’t) and develop high fever, shaking chills, chest pain and/or difficulty breathing, go immediately to your doctor or to an E.R., because these are signs that you might have pneumonia, and immediate treatment can be lifesaving.
The good news is that pneumonia and other serious infections caused by pneumococcus can be prevented by the Pneumovax vaccine. This is included in the standard childhood immunizations. In adults, the immunization protocol is complicated by the fact that there are now two pneumococcal vaccines that are recommended, but should not be given at the same time. Both, the PCV13 and the PPSV23, are recommended for all people 65 and older, and for people younger than that with certain conditions, some of which are listed above.
Bottom line: If you are 65 or over, get both Pneumovax immunizations soon if you haven’t had them. If you have young children, get them immunized. And if you are an adult younger than 65 and have a chronic medical condition, go to http://tinyurl.com/CDCadvice to see if a “pneumonia shot” is recommended. This could prevent serious disease and even death. Most health care providers and most pharmacies offer these.
Dr. Feinsinger of Carbondale, who retired in February from Glenwood Medical Associates after 41 years as a family physician, will provide a health tip each Tuesday in the Post Independent. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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