new-mo-KOK-al) disease is an infection caused by bacteria. These bacteria
can attack different parts of the body. When they invade the lungs, they
cause the most common kind of bacterial pneumonia. When the same bacteria
enter the blood, they cause an infection called bacteremia (bak-ter-E-me-ah).
In the brain, they cause meningitis. Pneumococcal pneumonia is a serious
illness that kills thousands of older people in the United States each
Can Pneumonia Be
For some causes of
pneumonia, yes. The pneumococcal vaccine is safe, it works, and one shot
lasts most people up to 10 years. People who get the vaccine are protected
against almost all of the bacteria that cause pneumococcal pneumonia and
other pneumococcal diseases as well. The shot, which is covered by Medicare,
can be a lifesaver.
Some experts say it
may be best to get the shot before age 65--anytime after age 50--since
the younger you are, the better the results. They also say people should
have this shot even if they have had pneumonia before. There are many
different kinds of pneumonia, and having one kind does not protect against
the others. The vaccine, however, does protect against 88 percent of the
pneumococcal bacteria that cause pneumonia. It does not guarantee that
you will never get pneumonia. It does not protect against viral pneumonia.
Most people need to get the shot only once. However some older people
may need a booster; check with your doctor to find out if this is necessary.
Who Should Get
According to the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention, everyone age 65 and older should get
it the pneumonia vaccine. Some younger people should get it also.
Ask a doctor for the
vaccine if you:
- Are age 65 or older.
- Have a chronic
illness, such as heart or lung disease or diabetes.
- Have a weak immune
system. (This can be caused by certain kidney diseases, some cancers,
HIV infections organ transplant medicines, and other disease.)
Are There Side
Some people have mild
side effects from the shot, but these usually are minor and last only
a very short time. In studies, about half of the people getting the vaccine
had mild side effects--swelling and soreness at the spot where the shot
was given, usually on the arm.
A few people (less
than 1 percent) had fever and muscle pain as well as more serious swelling
and pain on the arm. The pneumonia shot cannot cause pneumonia because
it is not made from the bacteria itself, but from a bacterial component
that is not infectious. The same is true of the flu shot; it cannot cause
flu. In fact, people can get the pneumonia vaccine and a flu shot at the
About the Disease
and the Vaccine
- There are two main
kinds of pneumonia--viral pneumonia and bacterial pneumonia. Bacterial
pneumonia is more serious. One kind of bacteria causes pneumococcal
pneumonia. In older people, this type of pneumonia is a common cause
of hospitalization and death.
- About 20 to 30
percent of people over age 65 who have pneumococcal pneumonia develop
bacteremia. At least 20 percent of those with bacteremia die from it,
even though they get antibiotics.
- People age 65 and
older are at high risk. They are two to three time more likely than
people in general to get pneumococcal infections.
- A recent, large
study by the National Institutes of Health suggests that the vaccine
prevents most cases of pneumococcal pneumonia.
- The U.S. Public
Health Service, the National Coalition for Adult Immunization, and the
American Lung Association now recommend that all people age 65 and older
get this vaccine.
- Everyone age 65
and older should get the pneumonia vaccine.
- Anyone with chronic
disease or a weak immune system should also get the vaccine.
- Most people need
to get it only once.
- Most people have
mild or no side effects.
- It is covered by
More information about
adult immunizations is available from the following groups.
P.O. Box 8057
Gaithersburg, MD 20898-8057
of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
31 Center Drive MSC 2520
Building 31, Room 7A50
Bethesda, MD 20892-2520
Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention
National Immunization Program
1600 Clifton Road NE
Atlanta, GA 30333
American Lung Association
New York, NY 10019-4374
for Adult Immunization
4733 Bethesda Avenue
Bethesda, MD 20814