December 28, 2012

2012 July 3 – Experts urging at-risk Australians to vaccinate against life-threatening infection

Experts urging at-risk Australians to vaccinate against life-threatening infection

Launch of Australian-first research this Pneumonia Awareness Week

Almost two-in-three at-risk Australians aged 15-to-64* are failing to protect against an often fatal lung infection, according to new Australian-first research released today.1  

 Spearheaded by the University of Sydney’s Family Medicine Research Centre and based on GP data involving 2,500 patients nation-wide, the research reveals poor vaccination rates among younger Australians, many of whom are at increased risk of developing pneumococcal pneumonia – a severe form of pneumonia caused by bacteria2 – compared with those aged 65 years and over.1

 Doctors are joining forces with patients this Pneumonia Awareness Week (July 2 – 8), to call for preventative action to curb pneumococcal infection rates this winter.

According to Professor Robert Booy, Head of Clinical Research at the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance (NCIRS), Sydney, this research reinforces the dangers associated with pneumococcal pneumonia, particularly during the colder months.

“Pneumonia-like illness is one of the top 10 contributing causes of deaths in Australia.3 The most recent statistics reveal that in one year, more females died from pneumonia than males, with 1,303 female deaths compared to 1,019 male deaths.4

“Worryingly, this research reveals vaccination coverage is low among people aged 15-to-64 years who are at-risk of pneumococcal pneumonia, including people living with diabetes, chronic heart disease, chronic lung disease and tobacco smokers,”1 said Prof Booy.

“In addition, one of the most commonly cited factors associated with low vaccination rates among high-risk groups is patient objection, particularly among those aged 65 years and older.But if only these people recognised the fact that they are at such high risk, they would get vaccinated.

“This finding is also particularly concerning, given the number of new cases of pneumococcal pneumonia each year rises exponentially between the ages of 50 and 80 years,”5 Prof Booy said.                          

The bacteria that causes pneumococcal pneumonia, known as Streptococcus pneumoniae,2 is responsible for approximately 1.6 million deaths per year world-wide,6claiming more lives than any other single bacteria.7

“Streptococcus pneumoniae is a very cunning organism, which can be spread by touching an infected person and through infected droplets in the air from a cough or sneeze.”said Prof Booy.

“There are ways to protect yourself against pneumococcal pneumonia, including vaccination,”8 according to Adelaide GP and Director of the Influenza Specialist Group, Dr Rod Pearce AM.

“To avoid the spread of infection practising good hygiene is vital – regular hand-washing, keeping household surfaces clean, and learning to recognise the symptoms of pneumococcal pneumonia, including rapid or difficulty breathing, cough, fever, chills or loss of appetite.”2,8,9

Entertainer and presenter, Patti Newton, was unaware of the severity of pneumonia until the illness struck her husband of 38 years, Bert, last winter.                                                                 

“At first Bert was displaying flu-like symptoms, including a persistent cough. Then he began struggling to breathe.”

After observing her husband’s declining health, Patti convinced him to see their local doctor.

“I kept urging Bert to visit the doctor because I knew something wasn’t right.                                                                 

“Our local GP sent Bert directly to hospital emergency, where specialists diagnosed pneumonia in both lungs. The pneumonia was obstructing Bert’s airways. He was sent straight to intensive care and hooked up to all sorts of equipment. It was incredibly frightening,” Patti said.

Patti is now committed to heightening community awareness and understanding of pneumonia.

“Many people incorrectly liken pneumonia to the flu. But once pneumonia takes hold of you, it’s very hard to shake.    It’s a serious and often life-threatening infection that requires certain preventative measures.

*At-risk groups as per NHMRC Guidelines – see reference 10.                                                                                                   

“People at increased risk of pneumonia should speak to their doctor about ways to protect themselves against pneumococcal pneumonia. Bert has been vaccinated, to reduce his risk of contracting pneumococcal pneumonia, and I’m about to have one too,” said Patti.


According to Dr Pearce, while pneumococcal pneumonia can affect anyone, some people are at heightened risk of contracting the infection.8

“Pneumococcal vaccination is recommended in Australia for infants, patients aged 65 years and over, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, tobacco smokers and high-risk people aged 10–64 years, including those with impaired immunity, and those with diabetes, chronic lung disease, chronic heart disease and chronic kidney disease.8,10

“GPs can diagnose pneumococcal pneumonia with a variety of tests, including a physical examination, chest X-ray, phlegm test, blood test and a urine test,”11 Dr Pearce said.

During normal respiration, air travels through the lungs to the alveoli or air sacs.2Pneumococcal pneumonia is the result of the air sacs filling with fluids, most commonly caused by bacteria obstructing normal air flow.2,8

Single mother, Melody, 38, from Melbourne, recently contracted pneumonia from her eight-year-old daughter.

“I’m young, fit and healthy with no underlying medical conditions, so I never considered myself to be a candidate for pneumonia, and I had no idea of its severity.”

In March 2012, Melody’s daughter, Rowdy, was diagnosed with bacterial pneumonia after presenting to her doctor with a thick, phlegm-like cough and fever. After undergoing a chest X-ray, Rowdy was prescribed medication, fluids and lots of rest. To monitor her wellbeing over night, Rowdy slept next to her mother.

Following Rowdy’s recovery, Melody returned to her normal routine, soon after which she collapsed, marking the start of her personal fight against bacterial pneumonia.

“I was freezing cold and aching all over. My temperature was fluctuating between 39 and 41 degrees Celsius for five days straight. It’s the worst I’ve ever physically felt,” Melody said.

“I was admitted to hospital for a series of intravenous antibiotics after a chest X-ray revealed a bacterial pneumonia infection.

“Since the ordeal, I’ve been running on 70 per cent energy and am taking a minimum six-to-12 month road to full recovery,” said Melody. 

About pneumococcal pneumonia

Pneumococcal pneumonia is a serious inflammatory lung infection associated with symptoms of pneumonia, including fever, cough and difficulty breathing.Pneumococcal pneumonia is caused by the bacterium, Streptococcus pneumoniae (S. pneumoniae).2Healthy people may carry S. pneumoniae bacteria in their nose and throat (upper respiratory tract).While most of the time this does not cause any illness, vulnerable groups may develop pneumococcal disease.11

About Pneumonia Awareness Week 2012 – Protecting Against Pneumococcal Pneumonia

Pneumonia Awareness Week runs from Monday, July 2 to Sunday, July 8, 2012. The week is designed to educate Australians about the seriousness of pneumonia and to encourage those at risk of developing the infection including, people with certain chronic illnesses and older Australians, to seek further information.  This winter, the theme for Pneumonia Awareness Week is Protecting Against Pneumococcal Pneumonia.

About The Australian Lung Foundation

The Australian Lung Foundation was established in 1990 by thoracic physicians concerned about the chronic shortage of funds for research into respiratory medicine and the impact of lung disease on the community. The Australian Lung Foundation aims to ensure lung health is a priority for all Australians.

People at risk of pneumococcal pneumonia should see their doctor about ways to protect themselves against infection, including vaccination. For more information about pneumonia, visit

 For more information, or to coordinate an interview with Prof Robert Booy, Patti Newton, Dr Rod Pearce or Melody, or other participating spokespeople nation-wide, please contact Kirsten Bruce or Mahsa Lotfizadeh from                   VIVA! Communications on 02 9968 3741/1604 or 0401 717 566 / 0422 180 674.                                                  

Full media kit available for download on Tuesday, July 3   



  1. Harrison, C, Bayram, C, Charles, J & Britt, H. ‘Pneumococcal vaccination coverage of Australian general practice patients.’ Presented at the Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA) 13th National Immunisation Conference, Darwin, June 20, 2012.
  2. Australian Lung Foundation. Pneumonia Fact Sheet, March 2011. Available at 2011 [last accessed 3 May, 2012].
  3. AIHW. Australia’s health 2010. Australia’s health no. 12. Cat. no. AUS 122. Canberra: AIHW.
  4. Australian Bureau of Statistics, Causes of Death, Australia, 2010 ( 3303.0), Underlying causes of death: diseases of the respiratory system. Latest issue released 20 March, 2012.
  5. Hogg GG, Strachan JE, Lester RA. Invasive pneumococcal disease in the population of Victoria. Med J Aust 2000; 173: S32-S35.
  6. World Health Organization (WHO). Pneumococcal disease; 2012. WHO. Available at [last accessed 20 June, 2012].
  7. Forrest JM, McIntyre PB, Burgess MA. Pneumococcal disease in Australia. Commun Dis Intell 2000;24:89-92.
  8. Department of Health and Ageing. Immunise – Pneumococcal Disease. Last modified 17 January, 2012. Available at [last accessed 3 May, 2012].
  9. World Health Organisation (WHO). Pneumonia factsheet; October 2011. WHO.
  10. NHMRC. The Australian Immunisation Handbook. 9th Ed. 2008. Department of Health and Aging. Government of Australia.
  11. Better Health Victoria and Department of Health – Communicable Disease Prevention and Control Unit. Pneumococcal disease fact sheet. 2011. Available at [last accessed 20 June, 2012].