May 16, 2017

Australians unwilling to protect against fatal lung infection

Lung Foundation Australia urging adults to ‘Know Pneumonia’ to curb infection rates on Know Pneumonia Day

Three-in-four Australian adults do not consider ‘life-threatening consequences’ as sufficient motivation to vaccinate against pneumococcal pneumonia. This is according to Lung Foundation Australia research set for release today (May 16, 2017) to mark Know Pneumonia Day.

According to respiratory physician and Lung Foundation Australia Respiratory Infectious Disease Committee Chair, Associate Professor Lucy Morgan, Sydney, Australians are not being persuaded of the seriousness of pneumococcal pneumonia infection, despite more than 63 per cent of research survey respondents reporting underlying risk factors that predispose them to contracting the illness.

“Pneumonia and pneumonia-like illness is among the top 15 contributing causes of death nationally and among the top five leading causes of hospitalisation in Australia.

“All adults aged 65 and over are at increased risk of contracting pneumococcal pneumonia due to their age alone and many more have existing chronic medical conditions or lifestyle factors (current or past smoking) that place them at heightened risk of infection,” A/Prof Morgan said.

“Lung Foundation Australia’s Know Pneumonia research shows ongoing efforts to raise public awareness of the seriousness of pneumococcal pneumonia infection are simply not resonating.

“Even among high risk groups, such as those aged over 65, there are no overwhelmingly high motivators for vaccination,” said A/Prof Morgan.

“Of immediate concern is that only one-in-three (32 per cent) research respondents aged 65 and above strongly agree their age puts them at risk of contracting pneumococcal pneumonia, while two-in-five (19 per cent) of those yet to be vaccinated, don’t even consider themselves to be at risk.”

While the research reveals 45 per cent of respondents across all age groups would follow their doctors’ advice regarding pneumococcal pneumonia vaccination, motivating factors, such as fear of catching pneumonia, or fear of outcomes from pneumonia, only resonated among 27 per cent and 22 per cent of respondents respectively. Moreover, other vaccination motivators, including Government recommendation or Government enforcement resonated among even fewer respondents (13 per cent and 12 per cent respectively), while only 2 per cent of respondents rated health appropriate vaccinations as their most important healthcare consideration.

The research also shows a significant gap between pneumococcal pneumonia vaccination rates (46 per cent) and the much higher flu vaccination rates reported among respondents aged 65+ years (69 per cent).

Professor Robert Booy, Infectious Diseases Paediatrician and Immunisation expert, University of Sydney, Sydney, said clearly there is a discrepancy in awareness of pneumococcal pneumonia vaccination compared to flu vaccination, but health statistics reveal an even greater discrepancy between childhood and adult pneumococcal pneumonia vaccination rates.

“Pneumococcal pneumonia is a severe lung infection caused by the bacterium Streptococcus pneumoniae,2 and it’s responsible for a large proportion of pneumonia cases among people aged 65 years and above.3

“Many older adults care for children who are mostly immunised against pneumococcal pneumonia, yet fail to protect themselves against the often-fatal infection,” Prof Booy said.

“We’re achieving 93 per cent pneumococcal vaccine uptake among Australian children. However, among equally vulnerable seniors, we’re failing to achieve even 50 per cent pneumococcal vaccine uptake,1 which could offer up to five more years of high quality life for an individual.

“Given grandchildren may pass pneumonia onto their grandparents, and vice-versa, protecting against pneumococcal infection would enrich their lives, allowing them to spend more quality time caring for, and interacting with their grandchildren,” said Prof Booy.

Retired gardening enthusiast, Fiona, 63, Sydney, contracted pneumonia in March 2017, sending her to hospital for two weeks. Fiona wants to urge other Australians who may be at risk to get vaccinated in order to protect themselves against pneumonia and avoid experiencing a similar situation to her.

“I had been to see my GP because I was a little out of breath. After that, I had blinding headaches and I was running a temperature. I was sweating and started vomiting. I just had excruciating pain in my body. There was very little indication that I had pneumonia until I was very, very sick. I knew it as the silent killer.

“I didn’t realise how easily it was spread either. I lead a healthy lifestyle, and I feel like I’m 43, but I still managed to get pneumonia,” Fiona said.

“I didn’t even realise there was a vaccination. People should absolutely talk to their doctor about it. I would have gotten it if I’d known about it. If you can avoid getting pneumonia by vaccinating, you should do it. It really knocks the stuffing out of you.”

The Know Pneumonia research survey also showed 38 per cent of those aged 65 and above, who are yet to be vaccinated, are not aware of the pneumococcal vaccine’s existence.

Lung Foundation Australia CEO, Heather Allan, said this year, Know Pneumonia Day aims to encourage all Australians, especially those in high risk groups, to Know Pneumonia and address complacency.

Know Pneumonia Day serves to reinforce the seriousness of pneumonia and the importance of protecting against the potentially life-threatening infection, because when you can’t breathe, nothing else matters, as many who have experienced pneumonia will tell you.

“Australians are aware of the importance of eating well and exercising regularly, but as a population we are extremely complacent when it comes to protecting against pneumococcal infection, including good hand and home hygiene, and vaccination,” Ms Allan said.

“We encourage all Australians, particularly those in high risk groups, to really Know Pneumonia, recognise that it is life-threatening, and take appropriate steps to protect against this preventable infection.”

Pneumonia can affect anyone. Those at greatest risk of pneumococcal pneumonia include infants; people aged over 65 years; Indigenous Australians; those with impaired immunity; tobacco smokers; and people with chronic illnesses such as asthma, COPD, diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease and liver disease.

Pneumococcal vaccination is funded under the government’s National Immunisation Program (NIP) for all Australians aged 65 years and older, Indigenous Australians aged 50 years and over, and Indigenous Australians aged 15 years and over who are medically at risk. A second dose of vaccine is also available to many Australians, a minimum of five years following their first dose. The vaccine is also available on the PBS for all adults aged 18 years or over, who are medically at risk, such as those with chronic lung, heart or liver disease or diabetes.

For more information about Know Pneumonia Day, visit www.lungfoundation.com.au/pneumonia or call Lung Foundation Australia on 1800 654 301.

 

About pneumonia, pneumococcal pneumonia & vaccination

Pneumonia is a potentially life-threatening infection that affects the lungs. Pneumonia causes the small air sacs of the lungs to fill with pus and fluid, making breathing painful, causing cough, and limiting oxygen intake.10  Pneumonia may be caused by viruses, bacteria or fungi.4 Pneumococcal pneumonia, caused by the bacterium Streptococcus pneumoniae,2 is the only bacterial pneumonia for which vaccination is available.

The Know Pneumonia research survey

The Lung Foundation Australia Know Pneumonia research is a consumer survey that garnered insights into Australian adults’ understanding of the seriousness of pneumococcal pneumonia, pneumococcal pneumonia vaccination rates, and barriers to, and motivators for, pneumococcal pneumonia vaccination.

About Lung Foundation Australia

Lung Foundation Australia is the only national charity supporting anyone with a lung disease. Since 1990, the charity has been the national first point-of-call for patients and their families, carers and health professionals. Their mission is to improve lung health and reduce the impact of lung disease for all Australians by driving world class research; promoting lung health and timely diagnosis of lung disease, providing clinical support and education, and promoting equitable access to evidence-based care.

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