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Lung Disease & Respiratory Health Center

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One Shot Keeps Bacterial Pneumonia at Bay

WebMD Health News

April 3, 2001 -- Many cases of pneumonia could be prevented with just one shot. But according to a new study in the April 4 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, many people who should be receiving the shot to prevent pneumonia, caused by the bacteria Streptococcus pneumoniae, aren't.

Although the pneumococcal vaccine has been around for a while, lots of folks don't even know it exists. That's a pity, because with the increase in antibiotic-resistant pneumonia, treating this type of pneumonia has gotten a lot more difficult.

Most people only need one shot to prevent disease for their entire lifetime. Currently, vaccination is recommended for everyone over age 65 and for people younger than 65 with a chronic disease, such as heart or lung disease, diabetes, spleen problems, or sickle cell disease.

In addition, the immunization is important for anyone with HIV infection, cancer, or a weakened immune system for any other reason.

"We know pneumonia is the No. 1 cause of death from infectious disease in the U.S.," Michael Niederman, MD, tells WebMD. "The vaccine isn't perfect; it can't prevent every single case. However, right now it is being grossly underutilized." Niederman is chairman of the department of medicine and chief of the division of pulmonary and critical care medicine at Winthrop-University Hospital in Minneola, N.Y.

In their study, researchers at the Active Bacterial Core Surveillance/Emerging Infections Program Network looked at records on every case of infection due to the pneumonia bacteria during 1998 in nine states, and used that data to extrapolate figures for the whole U.S.

They calculated there were almost 63,000 cases of pneumonia and related conditions. Almost 30% of the cases occurred in people over 65, and the majority could have been prevented with vaccination. Among patients aged 2 to 64 years who developed pneumonia, at least half should have been vaccinated because they had a chronic illness of some kind.

Almost 20% of cases were children under 2 years. Many of these cases could be avoided with a new, recently approved pneumococcal vaccine. Parents should be sure their infants receive the pneumococcal vaccine in the standard course of well-baby shots. In addition, children under 5 who attend day care or are Native American or black should get the vaccine, too.

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