Fatal lung infection not on public’s radar

Experts calling for Aussie adults to curtail risk of infection this Pneumonia Awareness Week

Fewer than one-in-seven Australian adults at-risk of pneumonia consider themselves vulnerable, with only one-in-five having reported vaccinating against the often-fatal lung infection.1

In addition to advancing age (65+), Lung Foundation Australia’s ‘Lungs4Life’ research released today to mark Pneumonia Awareness Week (May 17-24, 2015) revealed more than 35 per cent of Australians aged 18-to-64 are at increased risk of contracting pneumococcal pneumonia, due to smoking or a chronic medical condition.1

Respiratory physician and Lung Foundation Australia National Council member, Associate Professor Lucy Morgan, Sydney, said 60 per cent of those aged 65-to-74 have not had a pneumococcal pneumonia vaccination despite the majority of this age group (59 per cent) carrying additional risk factors for infection, including smoking, diabetes or heart disease.1

“Pneumococcal pneumonia is a severe lung infection caused by the bacterium Streptococcus pneumoniae2, responsible for a large proportion of pneumonia cases among those aged 65 years and above,”3 said A/Prof Morgan.

“Worryingly, our research shows vaccination is simply not a priority for Australians, who are most at-risk of contracting the disease,” she said.

Australian survey respondents cite the most important factors associated with ageing well include eating healthily (40 per cent) or exercising regularly (30 per cent), compared to genetics (13 per cent).1 

Lifestyle factors are also considered more important than regular GP check-ups (10 per cent), while health condition and age-related vaccinations are a staggeringly low two per cent.1 

“Australians know they need to eat better and exercise regularly, but they don’t seem to be aware of the importance of protecting against preventable infections, such as pneumococcal pneumonia,” said A/Prof Morgan.

Practicing good hygiene is also vital to help avoid the spread of infection, including regular hand-washing, keeping household surfaces clean, and learning to recognise the symptoms of pneumococcal pneumonia, including rapid or difficulty breathing, cough, fever, chills or loss of appetite.4 

Pneumonia-like illness (pneumonia and influenza) is among the top 15 contributing causes of death in Australia.5

This Pneumonia Awareness Week, Lung Foundation Australia is urging all Australians aged 18 and above who are considered at-risk of contracting pneumonia, people aged 65 or older, and those eligible for a second vaccine after five years, to recognise its seriousness and protect against the infection.

A/Prof Morgan said each year, the number of new cases of pneumococcal pneumonia rises exponentially among those aged between 50-and-80 years, to nearly 200 per 100,000.3

“That’s why it’s imperative Australians in this age group take all steps to protect themselves, including speaking to their doctor about vaccination,” she said.

Pneumococcal vaccination is funded under the National Immunisation Program (NIP) for all Australians aged 65 and over, with many eligible for a second vaccine five years following their first dose.6

Australian Immunisation Guidelines also recommend pneumococcal vaccination for people living with chronic medical conditions.6                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

Lung Foundation Australia Chief Executive Officer, Heather Allan, said this year the number of Australians turning 65 or older will exceed three million.7

“It’s important for Australian seniors to understand that their age alone puts them at heightened risk of contracting pneumonia.

“Australians aged 65 and over, and those living with chronic medical conditions, should talk to their doctor about how best to protect against pneumococcal pneumonia, including government-subsidised vaccination,” Ms Allan said. 

“Australians take their heart and breast health seriously. Now it’s time for them to start taking their lung health just as seriously.

“One-in-ten people are affected by lung disease,8 yet many of us continue to take our lungs for granted,” said Ms Allan. 

“When you can’t breathe, nothing else matters.” 

For more information about Pneumonia Awareness Week, visit www.lungfoundation.com.au or call Lung Foundation Australia on 1800 654 301.


  1. Lungs4Life’ Pneumonia 2015 Conducted by Galaxy Research, commissioned by Lung Foundation of Australia. April, 2015.
  2. Harrison C, Britt H. Pneumococcal vaccination among patients at general practice encounters 2013. Byte from BEACH No: 2014; 1 Sydney. FMRC, University of Sydney, 2014.
  3. Hogg GG, Strachan JE, Lester RA. Invasive pneumococcal disease in the population of Victoria. Med J Aust 2000; 173: S32-S35.
  4. Rozenbaum MH, Pechlivanoglou P, van der Werf TS, Lo-Ten-Foe JR, Postma MJ, Hak E. The role of Streptococcus pneumoniae in community-acquired pneumonia among adults in Europe: a meta analysis. Eur J Clin Microbiol Infect Dis 2013; 32: 305-316.
  5. Better Health Victoria and Department of Health – Communicable Disease Prevention and Control Unit. Pneumococcal disease fact sheet. 2011. Available at http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcpdf.nsf/ByPDF/Pneumococcal_disease/$File/Pneumococcal_disease.pdf [last accessed May, 2015].
  6. Immunise Australia Program. The Australian Immunisation Handbook 10th Available at http://www.immunise.health.gov.au/internet/immunise/publishing.nsf/Content/immunise-pneumococcal [last accessed May, 2015].
  7. Australian Bureau of Statistics. 3101.0 – Australian Demographic Statistics, Sept 2013. Available at http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mf/3101.0 [last accessed May, 2015].
  8. Lung Disease in Australia, Woolcock Institute of Medical Research, 2014.