- Pneumonia and influenza are responsible for over 4,200 deathsi in Australia each year: Thousands of Australians risk facing another serious lung infection in their vaccinations aren’t up-to-date.
- Just 51% of at-risk group are vaccinating against pneumococcal pneumoniaii: Experts urge over 65s and other at-risk groups not to ignore this severe virus amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Social distancing is slowing the spread of COVID-19 but this is not the time to let our guard down: Don’t be complacent about vaccinating against other infections such as pneumococcal pneumonia, experts warn.
THE COLLECTIVE effort of Australians practicing social distancing is helping to drastically slow the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), however, during Lung Health Awareness Month in May and Pneumonia Awareness Week (11-17 May) experts are urging at-risk groups not to be complacent in vaccinating against another serious lung infection responsible for thousands of deaths each year.
Pneumococcal pneumonia is a potentially deadly lung infection caused by the bacterium, Streptococcus pneumoniae and is one of the most common types of pneumonia. Over 65s, infants, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, those with impaired immunity, chronic tobacco smokers and people with chronic medical illnesses, such as heart, lung, kidney and liver disease, and diabetes are considered most at-risk. Each year in Australia, pneumonia and influenza account for more than 4,200 deathsi.
Lung Foundation Australia Chair and leading respiratory physician Professor Christine Jenkins AM says that amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, we should not underestimate the seriousness of pneumonia.
“With tens of thousands of Australians hospitalised with pneumonia each year, it’s more important than ever that at-risk groups are protecting themselves against lung infections whenever possible. Although many Australians are staying at home to slow the spread of COVID-19, we mustn’t be complacent about vaccinating against pneumococcal pneumonia,” Professor Jenkins said.
“The steps Australians are taking to reduce the spread of COVID-19 are making a real and positive impact. The measures currently in place are starting to flatten the curve, but this is not the time to let our guard down about other potential infections. With community transmission of COVID-19 low, now is a great time for Australians at risk of pneumonia to be ensuring their vaccinations are up-to-date to protect themselves.”
Mother of two Marie Rogers describes contracting pneumonia as feeling like ‘drowning’. The 57-year-old spent two stints in hospital with the deadly infection in 2018.
“I was transferred between two different emergency departments and spent four days in hospital on IV antibiotics before being sent home, but I was back in hospital again within a few days. I thought I would recover within a couple of weeks, but I couldn’t do anything for months and months. It was about six months until I got back to where I was. I used to exercise 2-3 times a week, but I couldn’t even walk to the letter box – it was dreadful and scary,” Marie said.
Marie has always been proactive about protecting herself against nasty bugs, however since her ordeal with pneumonia, keeping her vaccinations up-to-date is top of mind each year.
“I would never want to be in that position again. Every year when I get my flu vaccination, I ask my doctor if I’m due for the pneumonia one too even though I know it lasts for five years. I don’t want to risk ever, ever feeling like that again. I implore anyone who is eligible to get the vaccination. It’s the most important thing you can do to protect yourself against pneumococcal infection.”
Infectious Diseases Specialist and Microbiologist, Dr Andrew Henderson says those at-risk groups should not underestimate the importance of having the vaccination which can protect against up to 23 strains of the bacteria responsible for 85 per cent of adult pneumococcal infections in Australia.iii
“The majority of Australians seem to understand the importance of vaccinating against infections like influenza, particularly given the current strain on our health system. Many at-risk Australians, however, are ignoring the importance of ensuring their pneumonia vaccination is up-to-date, with just 51% vaccinating against the killer lung infection,” Dr Henderson said.
“For at-risk groups, such as people living with chronic lung conditions contracting pneumonia can be life-threatening with patients often requiring ventilator support. If ventilators are being used for other patients such as those with severe COVID-19 infection or road traumas, as an example, then it may mean a ventilator isn’t available, which could have fatal consequences.”
Dr Henderson says while social distancing measures currently in place across the country may help to reduce the spread of other infections, the best defence is through vaccination.
“We understand everyone is feeling some degree of anxiety about being around others at the moment and that’s quite normal. In Australia the transmission rates for COVID-19 within the community are still very low and being monitored very closely. Doctor’s practices and pharmacies have stringent strategies in place to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 infection so people shouldn’t hesitate to make an appointment with their GP to get vaccinated as soon as possible.”
The two types of pneumococcal vaccine (depending on the type of risk) are provided free under the National Immunisation Program (NIP) Schedule for all Australians aged 65 and above, Indigenous Australians aged 50 years and over, Indigenous Australians aged 15 to 49 years who are medically at risk, and infants under 12 months.iv A second dose of vaccine is also available to Australians with immunocompromising conditions or chronic disease, or smokers, a minimum of five years following their first dose.
The vaccine is also available on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), and the NIP in some States, for all adults aged 18 years or over, who are smokers or medically at risk, such as those with chronic lung, heart or liver disease or diabetesv.
To learn more, visit lungfoundation.com.au/protect
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About pneumonia and pneumococcal pneumonia
Pneumonia is a common and potentially fatal lung infection that should not be underestimated. It can be caused by viruses, bacteria or fungi. During normal respiration, air travels through the lungs to the alveoli or air sacs. Pneumonia results when air sacs in the lungs fill with secretions and fluids that obstruct normal air flow. There are many types of pneumonia, one of the most common and life-threatening types is pneumococcal pneumonia.
About Lung Foundation Australia
Lung Foundation Australia is the only charity and leading peak body of its kind in Australia that funds life-changing research and delivers support services that give hope to those affected.
Lung Foundation Australia enables life-saving lung health and lung cancer research, and champions programs so that Australians with lung disease and lung cancer can live their best life. Our strategic pillars are:
- Healthy lungs for all
- Australia’s lung health research funding incubator
- Impactful and meaningful lung disease programs and support
- Valuing our people
- Purposeful leadership and ethical governance.
The organisation relies on the generosity of the community through donations, membership, bequests, grants, and support from business and industry.
Find out more at www.lungfoundation.com.au