Pneumococcal Pneumonia – There’s a Vaccine for That!
We often hear about pneumonia, but it can sometimes be a little confusing as there are many different causes of pneumonia. Recently we’ve heard a lot in the media about pneumonia caused by COVID-19. This is an example of viral pneumonia caused by a virus that infects the lungs. Pneumonia can also be caused by fungus and bacteria. Did you know that bacterial pneumonia is the most common cause of pneumonia in adults? Luckily there are vaccines for that.
What is Pneumococcal Pneumonia?
Pneumococcal pneumonia is caused by the bacteria Streptococcus pneumoniae. These bacteriaare the most common cause of community-acquired pneumonia worldwide. Streptococcus pneumoniaecan also cause bacteraemic pneumonia (infection in the lungs with bacteria in the bloodstream), sepsis (bacteria in the bloodstream), and meningitis (inflammation around the brain). Together these infections are referred to as invasive pneumococcal disease.
The bacteria are spread from person to person through respiratory droplets by:
It is possible to be carrying Streptococcus pneumoniaebacteria without showing any symptoms. You can still spread the bacteria to others even if you don’t have symptoms.
What are the symptoms?
Pneumonia causes an infection of the lungs. When a healthy person breathes the small sacs that make up the lungs called alveoli fill with air. When a person has pneumonia, the alveoli are filled with fluid and pus which makes breathing painful and difficult and limits the amount of oxygen a person can breathe in. Symptoms of pneumococcal pneumonia include:
- Chest pain
- Cough with pussy or blood-tinged sputum
- Shortness of breath
- Altered mental status in the elderly
Streptococcus pneumoniaecan also cause pneumococcal meningitis which is less common than pneumonia. Symptoms may include:
- Stiff neck
Who is at risk?
There are certain factors and medical conditions that can increase a person’s risk of getting pneumococcal pneumonia. These include:
- Age ≥65 years
- Chronic lung disease (e.g. asthma and COPD)
- Chronic heart disease
- Some neurological conditions
- Chronic liver disease
- Impaired immune system
- Living in long term care facilities
- Travelling to developing countries
Fortunately, in Canada routine immunization of infants with pneumococcal vaccine has significantly reduced the circulation of the bacteria in the community, as well as pneumococcal disease associated with this vaccine in persons ≥65 years. However, for travellers in this age group the risk may increase as these pneumonia strains are more commonly circulating in areas with low vaccination rates.
There are 2 vaccines available to prevent pneumococcal disease, Prevnar13 and Pneumo23. Prevnar13 is provided to babies as part of the routine immunization schedule in BC. Adults may receive either Prevnar13 or Pneumo23, depending on age and risk factors. What’s the difference between vaccines? Which one should you receive?
Prevnar13 vs Pneumo23
Prevnar13 is called a conjugate vaccine and provides protection against 13 strains of pneumococcal. Pneumo23 is called a polysaccharide vaccine and provides protection against 23 strains of pneumococcal. Research has shown that as a conjugate vaccine Prevnar13 is more effective than Pneumo23. Prevnar13 is the best way to protect against pneumococcal disease.
Prevnar13 and Pneumo23 are recommended to individuals with certain high- risk medical conditions. For a complete list of vaccine recommendations see the links below.
Adults ≥ 65 years of age
Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommends that adults ≥65 years of age receive Prevnar13 followed by Pneumo23 at least 8 weeks later. If pneumo23 is given first then there should be a minimum of 1 year before receiving Prevnar13. Prevnar13 is available for purchase and Pneumo23 is provided free at your family doctor.
For more information about pneumococcal disease please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call TravelSafe Clinic at 604-251-1975.