Dr. Jacqueline Gerhart: Pneumonia Vaccine Pushed For Smokers

UW Health Family Medicine physician Dr. Jacqueline GerhartMadison, Wisconsin - UW Health Family Medicine physician Jacqueline Gerhart writes a column that usually appears Tuesdays on madison.com and in the Wisconsin State Journal. Columns are re-published here with permission.


Dear Dr. Gerhart: My doctor just recommended that I get a pneumonia vaccine because I'm a smoker. Why is that?


Dear Reader: The pneumonia vaccine is also called the "pneumococcal" vaccine. This is because the shot helps us build immunity against a bacteria called Streptococcus pneumonia, one of the most common causes of pneumonia.


Each of us, if we are brought up in the U.S., likely was vaccinated against pneumonia as a child. Assuming your parents chose to follow the Centers for Disease Control guidelines, you likely received four doses of the pneumococcal vaccine: at ages 2 months, 4 months, 6 months and 12-15 months.


As of 2010, the CDC recommends that doctors use the version of the pneumococcal vaccine called "PCV13" for the four pneumonia shots given in childhood. It is called PCV13 because there are 13 different types of the bacteria streptococcus pneumonia that are in the vaccine. These 13 types make up the most common types of strep that cause pneumonia in kids.


The PCV13 vaccine, however, is not as effective in adults. So, even if you got the pneumonia vaccinations as a child, you will still need a different pneumonia vaccine as an adult. The adult pneumonia vaccine is called PPSV23, and allows for immunity against 23 types of strep.


In 2008, the CDC reviewed new studies relating smoking and pneumonia, and found that smoking directly increases one's risk of pneumonia regardless of other risk factors. So regardless of how much vitamin C you take, how much you exercise or how much rest you get, you are still more susceptible to pneumonia as a smoker.


Therefore, as of 2008, the CDC recommends all smokers age 19 and up get the PPSV23 vaccine. Other patients who need the pneumonia vaccine as adults include: patients with asthma, diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, chronic alcohol use, chronic kidney disease, or weakened immune systems. Also, all patients aged 65 and older should get the pneumonia vaccine.


Pneumonia is a serious disease, and pneumococcal disease kills more people in the U.S. each year than all other vaccine-preventable diseases combined. It is estimated that 175,000 cases of pneumonia from Strep pneumonia alone occur in the U.S. each year. And the fatality rate is 5 to 7 percent.


While the pneumonia vaccine covers some of the most common bacteria that cause pneumonia, it doesn’t cover them all. So what else can you do to stay protected?


Pneumonia is spread from person to person by droplets in the air. Some people who are healthy carry the pneumococcal bacteria in their nose and throat without ever developing illness. So be sure to cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze, and wash your hands afterwards.


The incubation period for pneumonia is short - one to three days. So if you are exposed to someone with pneumonia, you usually will develop symptoms of fever, cough, shortness of breath and/or weakness within three days after contact. If you develop these symptoms, see your doctor.


In summary, yes, smokers are at higher risk of pneumonia and should be vaccinated against it.


This column provides general health information and is not specific advice intended for any particular individual(s). It is not a professional medical opinion or a diagnosis. Always consult your personal health care provider about your concerns. No ongoing relationship of any sort (including but not limited to any form of professional relationship) is implied or offered by Dr. Gerhart to people submitting questions.

Date Published: 04/17/2013

News tag(s):  jacqueline l gerhart

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