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Officials promote pneumonia vaccine

ALBANY -- With the swine flu outbreak becoming the new major health scare, some other concerns have faded into the background.

Pneumonia has been identified as an important complication in severe and fatal cases of H1N1 influenza virus infections. That's no surprise to medical professionals, since secondary bacterial pneumonia was a frequent cause of illness and death in past influenza pandemics.

Given that, health officials are strongly urging awareness of the pneumonia shot.

"With H1N1, a lot of hospitalizations are related to secondary infections," said Southwest Public Health District Deputy Director Brenda Greene. "Pneumonia has been one of those complications."

Pneumococcal vaccines can be useful in preventing secondary pneumococcal infections and reducing illness and death among those infected with influenza viruses, experts say.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 70 million Americans who could take advantage of the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV) have not done so.

The CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends a single dose of PPSV for all people 65 years of age and older and for persons 2 through 64 years of age with certain high-risk conditions.

"(The pneumonia shot) is certainly one of the shots we recommend all year round," Greene said. "There are a significant number of deaths that could be prevented. We want to make people aware this vaccine is available."

High-risk conditions for pneumonia include: chronic cardiovascular disease such as congestive heart failure; chronic pulmonary disease such as emphysema; diabetes; alcoholism; chronic liver disease such as cirrhosis; cerebrospinal fluid leaks; cochlear implant; compromised immune systems as a result of organ transplants, diseases such as leukemia and HIV or from chemotherapy.

Residents of nursing homes or long-term care facilities are also at increased risk, experts say.

Pneumococcal disease is an infection caused by a type of bacteria called streptococcus pneumoniae (pneumococcus). When these bacteria invade the lungs, they can cause pneumonia. They can also invade the bloodstream and/or the tissues and fluids surrounding the brain and spinal cord.

Symptoms of pneumococcal pneumonia include fever, cough, shortness of breath and chest pain. The symptoms of pneumococcal meningitis include stiff neck, fever, mental confusion and disorientation and visual sensitivity to light. The symptoms of pneumococcal bacteremia may be similar to some of the symptoms of pneumonia and meningitis, along with joint pain and chills.

Pneumococcal infection kills thousands of people in the United States each year, most of them 65 years of age or older. The pneumococcal vaccine can be given at any time during the year and may be given at the same time as influenza vaccine, both seasonal and H1N1. It is available at county health departments and other health care providers.

Available information about vaccines can be found at the county health departments and online at www.southwestgeorgiapublichealth.org.