You may be aware that pneumonia is an infection of the lungs with a range of causes. You may know that it was responsible for over 100,000 emergency room visits in Canada in 2017-2018 and that it can be life-threatening. But, do you know that we have tools available that can help to prevent it? Is that enough to make you take action?
“The reason why I’m afraid of pneumonia as a disease is because it affects your breathing and it can progress very quickly,” says University of Toronto family doctor and immunization expert Dr. Vivien Brown. “It can be a rapid-onset, deadly disease.”
Pneumonia can affect anyone of any age, but adults over 50 and those living with chronic diseases can be particularly vulnerable. “Chronic disease doesn’t just mean those at highest risk like transplant patients and people who are immunosuppressed,” explains Dr. Brown. “It also means people with chronic conditions like diabetes, COPD, heart disease, asthma, and other common conditions like these.”5
We’ve got an aging population that’s still very healthy and they want to remain independent. One of the most effective ways to help prevent infections is to be more proactive about vaccination in general, from the flu to shingles to pneumonia.Dr. Vivien Brown, University of Toronto family doctor and immunization expert
The elephant in the emergency room
Because pneumonia can worsen so quickly, and because it’s often intertwined with other illnesses, it may not create the same emotional response that drives public support and awareness around other diseases. This can keep discussion of pneumonia out of the spotlight, and that itself can lead to an underestimation of risk.
“We don’t talk about pneumonia enough, probably because it’s an acute condition,” says Michael Boivin, a pharmacist with 17 years of primary care experience who now focuses on health care education, particularly surrounding immunization.
Seniors may experience serious functional declines and a loss of independence following a pneumonia hospitalization. As we grow older, our immune systems weaken, making proactive prevention through vaccination an important component of our health.
“Even if you do survive the disease, you could be left with decreased function, says Dr. Brown. “We’ve got an aging population that’s still very healthy and they want to remain independent. One of the most effective ways to help prevent infections is to be more proactive about vaccination in general, from the flu to shingles to pneumonia.”
Informed is empowered when it comes to vaccination
For pneumonia prevention, we have two types of pneumococcal vaccines available for use in adults 65 and over. But it’s not an either-or scenario. For those over 50, and for those with high risk of invasive pneumococcal disease, an earlier discussion is also worthwhile.
In order to help protect yourself, the most important thing is to begin a dialogue with your health care providers about what’s available and what’s recommended. “I’m a big proponent of people taking control of their own health,” says Boivin. “So, I encourage everyone to talk to their physician or pharmacist about pneumonia. There are strategies we can use to reduce the overall risk. Just start the conversation.”
Vaccination does not protect 100% of those immunized and cannot prevent complications, hospitalization or death after the onset of disease. Side effects and allergic reactions can occur.
This article was made possible with support from Pfizer Canada.