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Pneumococcal Pneumonia Can Be Life-Threatening. Here’s What to Know

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(StatePoint) Pneumococcal pneumonia can disrupt your life for weeks and, in some cases, be serious or even life-threatening. To help adults understand how they can help protect themselves against pneumococcal pneumonia, the American Lung Association and Pfizer are partnering to share important information and patient insights about the disease.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that this lung disease causes an estimated 150,000 hospitalizations annually nationwide. Symptoms include high fever, excessive sweating, shaking chills, coughing, difficulty breathing, shortness of breath and chest pain. Some symptoms can appear quickly and without warning.

Risk Factors

The immune system naturally weakens with age, so even if you’re healthy and active, being 65 or older puts you at increased risk for pneumococcal pneumonia. In fact, adults 65 and older are over 10 times more likely to be hospitalized with pneumococcal pneumonia than those aged 18-49.

In adults 19 and older, certain factors increase pneumococcal pneumonia risk compared with healthy adults of the same age. These include smoking cigarettes, chronic lung diseases like asthma and COPD, chronic heart disease and diabetes.

Prevention

Pneumococcal pneumonia vaccination can help protect against the disease and is recommended for at-risk groups. For adults living with certain chronic health conditions and those 65 or older, vaccination helps protect against a potentially life-threatening illness.

“Having asthma can sometimes restrict me from doing things I love, so I really try to take proactive steps to help keep myself healthy, like avoiding my known asthma triggers and following my doctors’ advice,” says Catherine, a patient who was diagnosed with asthma in adulthood. “I didn’t even think I was old enough to get vaccinated for pneumococcal pneumonia, but when my doctor recommended it, I got it because I trust him. I like the comfort of knowing it’s helping to protect me against this potentially serious lung disease.”

In addition to being up to date on your vaccinations, washing your hands, and not smoking are all habits that can help prevent pneumococcal pneumonia. Those with chronic illnesses should also follow the care recommendations for their condition.

Disparities

The 2025 Vaccines National Strategic Plan has pneumococcal disease vaccination rate targets of 90% for people 65 years and older and 60% for adults with underlying health conditions at increased risk of disease. Unfortunately, current vaccination rates are falling far short of these goals – especially among Black and Hispanic/Latino-communities. In 2021, pneumococcal vaccination coverage among all U.S. adults aged 65 and older was 70.1%. However, the rate was around 60% among the Black population and around 52% among the Hispanic/Latino population of the same age group. Latino and Black adults are also at greater risk of developing certain chronic health conditions, such as asthma and diabetes, compared to individuals who are white. It’s important that all adults at risk take steps to help protect themselves against infection.

What Should You Do?

If you’re at increased risk for pneumococcal pneumonia, talk to your doctor or pharmacist about vaccination. Being an active part of your healthcare team, advocating for yourself and asking questions is important. Even if you’ve previously had a pneumonia vaccine, your healthcare provider may recommend additional vaccination for increased protection. You can learn more, as well as take a quiz to assess your risk, by visiting lung.org/pneumococcal.

Pneumococcal pneumonia can be serious. Talk to your healthcare provider about how to help prevent this lung disease.

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