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Pneumonia Risk Increases for Canada’s Aging Population

Bev Black and her daughter
Bev Black and her daughter

It sometimes seems like every week there is another national awareness day or large event focusing on a different form of cancer, but one illness that you almost never see in the spotlight is pneumonia. This serious lung condition, which can arise from either viral or bacterial causes, is commonly referred to as a silent killer and is expected to increase as our population continues to age.

Bev Black of St. Catharines, Ontario, a 77-year old great-grandmother and former banker, has survived several battles with pneumonia, including one in 2009 that saw her admitted to the ICU and placed on life support. “I went down to 72 pounds and I almost completely lost my muscle tone,” Bev recalls. “In total I was in the hospital for nearly seven weeks. It took me a good two or three months to get most of the way back to normal, and some of the strength that I had before I got sick was just gone for good.”

Bev Black and her family

Risk increases with age

Bev’s story may not be common but is certainly remarkable. The most remarkable thing about it may be that she recovered as well as she did. As we age, our immune system becomes weaker and we are at increased risk of getting infections like pneumonia. We’re also more likely to have chronic conditions like COPD, diabetes, and heart disease, which can also increase the risk of infection. With all that in mind, it is critical older Canadians be aware that the risk of catching pneumonia is something that can be mitigated.

“Together with influenza, this has been the most common vaccine-preventable cause of death in Canada between 2013 and 2017,” explains Dr. Samir Sinha, Director of Geriatrics for the Sinai Health System and University Health Network in Toronto. “We all know about the flu shot, but people are less aware that we also have vaccines for pneumococcus, the most common form of bacterial pneumonia. When there’s a vaccine to help prevent an infection that can hospitalize or kill you, why wouldn’t you get it?”

Bev now devotes a lot of time to spreading an important message as a lung health ambassador: If you’re over 65 or have chronic health conditions, talk to your doctor, pharmacist, or nurse about the pneumococcal vaccines, flu shot, and the preventative lifestyle changes that are available to you. 

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.

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