Colds and influenza are just a couple illnesses that can put a senior citizen's health at risk during the winter.
This is also pneumonia season for seniors and others who are at-risk. Family doctors highly recommend these groups get a pneumonia vaccine to protect them from pneumococcal disease, which very year in the United States kills thousands of adults, including 18,000 adults 65 and older. “Thousands more end up in the hospital because of pneumococcal disease,” said Paul Sletten, MD, family physician from ThedaCare Physicians-Waupaca.
Pneumococcal disease is an infection caused by the streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria, also known as pneumococcus. Pneumococcal bacteria can cause many types of illnesses that range from mild to very severe. “When pneumococcal bacteria spread from the nose and throat to ears or sinuses, it generally causes mild infections,” said Dr. Sletten.
However, when the bacteria spread to other parts of the body, it can cause severe infections of the lungs, bloodstream, and lining of the brain and spinal cord. “These illnesses can be life threatening, especially for adults 65 years or older, people with chronic health conditions, and people who are immunocompromised,” said Dr. Sletten, adding the disease can also lead to disabilities like deafness, brain damage, or loss of arms or legs.
A vaccine is a simple measure to take to protect those at risk. “Two vaccines are available and you should discuss which vaccine or combination of the two is needed depending on your medical history,” said Dr. Sletten. “The vaccines for pneumococcus have been shown to be safe and very effective in reducing the number of hospitalizations for aggressive infection with the pneumococcus.”
Also, the pneumococcal vaccine can be given at the same time as the flu vaccine, which is also a very important vaccine for those at risk. “While you don't need a pneumococcal vaccine every year, it is important to get a flu vaccine each flu season because having the flu increases your chances of getting pneumococcal disease,” said Dr. Sletten.