A: Pneumonia is an infection in the lungs that can make a person very sick. It often causes fever and cough. In severe cases, it can require hospitalization and may be life-threatening.
Certain populations are at risk for getting pneumonia. Anyone over the age of 65 is at risk because as we age, our immune systems are less able to fight off infections like pneumonia. Other risk factors include asthma or COPD, diabetes, HIV, smoking and heart disease. People who work in construction or agriculture may also be at risk for developing pneumonia as breathing in dust or chemicals can damage the lungs and make them more susceptible to infections.
There are ways to help protect yourself from becoming ill with pneumonia. Proper handwashing, not smoking and avoiding others who are sick can help reduce your risk of getting pneumonia. There are also vaccines to help reduce the risk as well. The annual flu vaccine can help, as bacterial pneumonia is not uncommon following an influenza infection. There is also a specific pneumonia vaccine available to some people.
The pneumonia vaccine does not prevent all types of pneumonia. However, it may help reduce the change of getting it, and it may make it less likely to develop a severe, life-threatening case of it. It is recommended for anyone older than 65. In some cases, it may be recommended for people younger, particularly if you have chronic illness such as asthma, COPD, diabetes or a weakened immune system. Contact your health care provider to see if you may benefit from vaccination.
Information provided by Amy Lamberti, PA-C, Mercy East Family Practice, 5900 E. University Ave., Suite 200, 643-2400.