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Risk for Pneumonia and Pneumococcal Infections: Are You Susceptible?

Risk for Pneumonia and Pneumococcal Infections: Are You Susceptible?

For many, staying healthy is a top priority. Getting sick means that they won’t be able to care or provide for their family, and the medication and treatment involved can be very expensive. So we always try to do our best to stay healthy and avoid illness.

In the Philippines, one of the leading causes of hospitalization is pneumonia. It is an infectious disease that affects the lungs¹, and can lead to serious illness and death if left untreated.

Pneumonia is just a kind of pneumococcal infection. Some are relatively benign, such as sinusitis or otitis media, while others are a cause for concern, such as meningitis. Knowing your risk for pneumonia and pneumococcal infections can help you decide what actions to take in order to avoid getting sick.

Knowing who is at risk also lets you know if your loved ones are vulnerable. The more informed you are about pneumococcal infections, the better you will be able to care for yourself and your family.

Who Is Most at Risk for Pneumonia and Pneumococcal Infections?

People in the following groups need extra care as they are the ones who are most vulnerable to being infected.

Children and Infants

Children and infants are vulnerable to pneumonia mainly because they don’t have well-developed immune systems. This means that if they get a pneumococcal infection, their body might not be able to fight it off, so there is a possibility that it could spread to their lungs and lead to pneumonia.

This doesn’t mean that all children have the same risk. Because of a number of reasons, some children are more vulnerable compared to others². These include:

  • Babies 6 months old or younger
  • Premature babies
  • Babies born with lung or heart problems
  • Children with birth defects, or those who have seizures or cerebral palsy
  • Children with asthma

But even adults are not immune to this condition. Find out if you are at risk by taking this short quiz:

The Elderly

Pneumonia in elderly patients is a serious concern. This is because elderly patients tend to have weaker immune systems, and their bodies can’t fight off pneumonia as well as it did when they were younger.

The elderly usually experience more serious complications and tend to stay in the hospital longer for recovery. The risk of mortality in elderly patients with pneumonia can reach up to 20%, so it is very important to take precautionary measures in order to prevent any illness³.

Immunocompromised Individuals

Aside from children and the elderly, those who are immunocompromised are also at risk for pneumonia. “Immunocompromised” means that for one reason or another, that person’s immune system has been weakened, inhibiting their ability to fight infection.

In particular, among the most vulnerable for pneumonia are persons who have:

  • HIV
  • Cancer
  • Engaged in chronic steroid use
  • Had solid or stem cell transplantation
  • Chemotherapy treatment
  • Immune deficiency diseases

For these people, even a simple cough or cold can quickly become a serious illness, because their immune cells are unable to deal with the infection inside their body.

Persons with Respiratory Problems

Pneumonia is an infection that affects a person’s lungs, causing inflammation. This means that people with underlying respiratory problems are more vulnerable.

Persons with chronic respiratory problems are at risk for pneumonia, such as those with:

Persons with Chronic Illnesses

Lastly, persons with chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart and kidney disease are also vulnerable to pneumonia.

In the case of heart disease, serious illnesses such as pneumonia can put a lot of stress on the heart. If a person with heart disease gets pneumonia, there is a risk that they might develop a heart attack, or heart arrhythmia from the underlying infection.

Those living with diabetes are about 3 times more likely to die from pneumonia because of a weaker immune system caused by high blood sugar.

In addition, smoking and alcohol abuse are also risk factors for pneumonia.

It is important to remember that while some people are more vulnerable to pneumonia, this doesn’t mean that healthy people are “immune” to it. Even if you are healthy and don’t have a history of respiratory problems, you may still get pneumonia, although the chances are low.

How Can You Prevent Pneumonia?

Here are a number of ways that you can prevent and lower your risk of pneumonia:

Vaccination

The best way to prevent pneumonia is to get the vaccine. There are two types of vaccines available which help protect people from pneumonia.

The first one is the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV). This vaccine is usually recommended by doctors for infants, children, and those who are at risk.

For infants, 3 doses are typically given in order for them to get the full protection of the vaccine.

Adults and the elderly are usually given a single dose, which is enough to protect them against pneumonia and pneumococcal infections for life.

The second vaccine is PPSV23. This vaccine can be used in conjunction with PCV in order to prevent severe pneumococcal disease. Individuals who are at risk are recommended to take PCV first, and then receive a PPSV23 vaccine one year after.

It is important to talk to your doctor, making sure to disclose any prior health conditions and find out if the vaccine is right for you.

Manage Your Conditions

Aside from vaccination, it is important for anyone with preexisting conditions to do their best in managing their conditions. This means that those with diabetes need to keep their blood sugar levels in check, patients with HIV need to take antiretroviral medication, and persons with asthma need to take their maintenance medication, if any.

This not only helps prevent complications, but also lowers the risk of infection and serious disease, such as pneumonia.

Learn more about pneumonia here.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Sources

1 Pneumonia – Better Health Channel, betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/pneumonia, Accessed May 4, 2021

2 Pneumonia in children – community acquired: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia, medlineplus.gov/ency/article/007690.htm, Accessed May 4, 2021

3 Severe pneumonia in the elderly: a multivariate analysis of risk factors, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4612842/, Accessed May 4, 2021

4 Community-Acquired Pneumonia in Immunocompromised Adults – CHEST, journal.chestnet.org/article/S0012-3692(20)31965-6/fulltext, Accessed May 4, 2021

5 Learn About Pneumonia | American Lung Association, lung.org/lung-health-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/pneumonia/learn-about-pneumonia, Accessed May 4, 2021

6 Pneumonia Can Increase Danger to the Heart, samhealth.org/about-samaritan/news-search/2020/01/13/pneumonia-increases-danger-to-heart, Accessed May 4, 2021

7 Diabetes And Pneumonia: Get the Fact, cdc.gov/diabetes/projects/pdfs/eng_facts.pdf, Accessed May 11, 2021

8 Type 2 Diabetes and Pneumonia Outcomes | Diabetes Care, care.diabetesjournals.org/content/30/9/2251, Accessed May 4, 2021

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Written by Jan Alwyn Batara Updated Aug 18
Medically reviewed by Erika Joanna Villanueva Caperonce, M.D.
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