Administering the pneumococcal pneumonia and seasonal influenza vaccines together is a potential strategy to increase pneumococcal immunisation rates, and prevent additional hospitalisations and mortality in the elderly and other high-risk groups, according to a new article published in the American Journal of Public Health.

Pneumonia is a serious and potentially fatal disease that is often underestimated.

Pneumonia-like illness is one of the top 10 contributing causes of death in Australia. In Australia, pneumonia and influenza caused more than 2,300 deaths between 2009 and 2010 alone.

As a preface to Pneumonia Awareness Week (2 to 8 July, 2012), Team VIVA! has teamed with The Australian Lung Foundation to promote the importance of protecting against pneumococcal pneumonia by seeking advice from a GP.

Pneumonia Awareness Week aims to heighten community awareness about the seriousness of pneumonia and to encourage those at risk of infection to get vaccinated. This year, the theme for Pneumonia Awareness Week is Protecting Against Pneumococcal Pneumonia.

“It used to be called ‘old man’s friend’, but pneumonia is a potentially fatal illness that needs to be taken seriously, especially by those in high risk groups,”according to Dr Rod Pearce AM, Director of the Influenza Specialist Group (ISG).

“When someone with influenza gets sick, they don’t always die from influenza, but from secondary bacterial infection.”

People at high risk of pneumococcal infection include infants, those aged 65 years and over, and those aged 10-to-64 years with diabetes, chronic heart disease, chronic lung disease, chronic liver disease, chronic heart disease, impaired immunity, and tobacco smokers.

The link between influenza and pneumococcal infection is undisputed – pneumococcal infections secondary to influenza are a major cause of death among the elderly during influenza seasons.

“There is a simple analogy – if you leave your front door open, you’ll get burgled. If you have an influenza infection, it’s like leaving the front door open to pneumococcus. Your airway is often impaired and your immune system can be given a complete shake-up,” said Dr John Litt, Associate Professor in General Practice at Flinders University, Adelaide.

What is pneumococcal pneumonia?
Pneumococcal pneumonia is an inflammatory lung infection caused by an infection with Streptococcus pneumoniae (S. Pneumoniae), also known as pneumococcus. Symptoms include rapid or difficulty breathing, fever, chills and loss of appetite.