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Protect yourself, family from pneumonia
Health advice
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Under doctors’ orders, American singer and actress Liza Minnelli and Canadian folk singer and songwriter Bruce Cockburn recently were forced to cancel multiple shows on their ongoing tours because of severe bouts of pneumonia. Both performers are in their mid-60s and, fortunately, are doing well now, although Cockburn’s recovery took a little longer due to an extended hospital stay for a partially collapsed lung.
Pneumonia is a very serious disease that can be prevented through adult immunizations. Pneumonia can cause many complications and result in death. This disease kills more people in the United States each year than all other vaccine-preventable diseases combined. Ninety percent of these deaths are among people 65 years of age or older.
Treatment of pneumococcal infections has become more difficult and prevention of the disease through vaccination even more important. About one in every 20 people who get pneumococcal pneumonia dies from it, which averages out to be 45,000 American deaths each year, making pneumonia the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States.
Pneumoccal disease is caused by bacteria that can infect the lungs, the blood and the membrane that covers the brain. The germ is spread through contact with people who are ill with pneumococcal disease or who carry the germ in their throat. The disease is most likely to strike in the winter and spring, but there are cases year round. The most common symptoms include chills, fever, chest pain, shortness of breath and a severe cough that produces thick, yellow-greenish mucus. Some people vomit or have seizures.
Anyone can get pneumococcal disease, but those at highest risk are young children, people 65 years and older, people of any age who have certain chronic medical problems and people with weakened immune systems. Pneumococcal disease can be very dangerous. Every year, thousands of people with pneumonia need hospital treatment. Pneumococcal disease is treated with antibiotics but in some cases, pneumococcal infections are resistant to antibiotics, which makes treatment difficult.
There are two vaccines that can prevent pneumococcal disease. Pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine protects against the 23 pneumococcal types most likely to cause disease in older children and adults, but is only approved for people 2 years of age and older. Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine protects against the seven types of the pneumococcal bacteria most likely to cause infection in young children and is approved for infants and children younger than 5 years of age.
It is recommended the following people get immunized against pneumococcal pneumonia:
• All adults 65 years of age or older
• Anyone older than 2 years who has a long-term health problem or condition that lowers the body’s resistance to infection.
• Anyone older than 2 years who is taking any drug or treatment that lowers the body’s resistance to infection.
• Alaskan Natives and certain Native-American populations.
• Health-care workers or caregivers
• Infants and young children
Protection is available and very simple. A pneumonia shot will last years before you will need to get a booster. Flu and pneumonia vaccines are available at the health department, pharmacies and physicians’ offices.
Other precautionary measures include washing your hands well and frequently and keeping them away from your face as much as possible, staying away from crowds and people with flu-like symptoms, using a tissue if you have respiratory symptoms and staying away from others if you have the flu.
Last, take care of yourself and your family. Living a healthy lifestyle keeps your resistance to disease up.

Ratcliffe is a consultant to the Coastal Health District. You can call her at 876-6399.
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