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Pneumococcal Infection and Vaccine

Pneumococcus has learned how to avoid being killed by some of the antibiotics that doctors have commonly used against it. Fortunately, there is a vaccine.

Pneumococcal Infection and Vaccine

By Ronald Musto, MD, MPH


Streptococcus pneumoniae, also called pneumoccocus is a bacterium that frequently causes respiratory infections in adults and in children. Ear infections and sinus infections are common examples. But the pneumococcus has a darker side, causing life threatening infections like meningitis (brain infection), pneumonia (lung infection) and septicemia (blood infection). The most serious of these conditions occur in the very young, in people older than age 65, and in people who have certain chronic medical illnesses.

Pneumococcus has been around for a very long time and it has learned how to avoid being killed by some of the antibiotics that doctors have commonly used against it.

Fortunately, there is a vaccine that substantially reduces the severity of pneumococcal infection.

There are two pneumonia vaccines. PCV 13, which has been available since 2000, is now recommended for children before age two and for all adults age 65 and older. The other, PCV 23, which has been available since 1977, is recommended for adults age 65 and older, and for people between 2 and 65 who have certain chronic medical conditions. These conditions include chronic heart disease, chronic lung disease (but not asthma), diabetes, kidney disease, liver cirrhosis, transplants, certain cancers and disorders of the immune system. People who have sickle cell anemia or who have had their spleen damaged or removed are at particular risk.

A person should receive a booster dose of PCV 23 pneumococcal vaccine after age 65 if they have received an initial dose before age 65. (Five years should elapse between doses).

If an adult 65 years or older has never received a pneumococcal vaccination, current guidelines recommend that the PCV 13 vaccine be given first followed by the PCV 23 vaccine a year later.

It sounds a little confusing but the bottom line is that at age 65, all older adults should make sure that they talk to their provider about getting both the PCV 13 and PCV 23 vaccines.

It is not known whether additional booster doses are beneficial in certain chronic medical conditions. People should check with their doctor in these special circumstances.

People who have had an allergic reaction to pneumococcal vaccine (a rare event) should not receive a second dose. Women who qualify for vaccination and who are pregnant may wish to delay vaccination until after their first trimester.

The commonest side effect of pneumococcal vaccine is mild soreness at the injection site for a day or two.

Infections caused by pneumococcus are the leading cause of vaccine preventable death. Why take the chance?

If you are age 65 or older or if you have a chronic medical condition that qualifies you for vaccination and you have not been vaccinated against pneumococcal disease – speak with your doctor.

Don't be a victim of PNEUMO-WHAT!!!

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