Why Pneumococcal Pneumonia Can Be Serious for Adults 65+

Help protect yourself by getting vaccinated

(This post is sponsored and developed, in part, by Pfizer; however, the opinions are my own.)

You’ve been battling that cough for a while now, and lately a fever and the shaking chills. You think it could be a cold or the flu. But you’re told by the doctor that what you have is not a virus, but rather pneumococcal pneumonia. This article will explain what pneumococcal pneumonia is and why adults 65 and older are at increased risk.

What exactly is pneumococcal pneumonia? And how serious is it?

Pneumococcal pneumonia is the most common type of bacterial pneumonia.1 According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria that can live in the upper respiratory tract and spread to others through coughing or close contact.2 It can strike anywhere, anytime and may start quickly with little warning.1 The CDC also emphasizes the increased risk of the disease for older adults (65+) because our immune systems weaken as we age. Even adults who feel healthy are at risk for getting potentially serious vaccine-preventable diseases.3,4

What are the symptoms?

According to the CDC, common symptoms include high fever, excessive sweating, shaking chills, coughing, difficulty breathing, shortness of breath and chest pain. Certain symptoms, like cough and fatigue, may last for weeks or longer.5,6 It’s important to keep track of your symptoms and talk to your doctor.

What are the risk factors for pneumococcal pneumonia?

Some health and lifestyle factors may increase the risk for getting pneumococcal pneumonia, such as chronic diseases, a compromised immune system, recent respiratory infections, cigarette smoking or alcoholism.6 But one risk factor that all of us as boomers can’t avoid is the natural age-related decline of our immune system. Even in healthy, active adults, the immune system weakens as we age, increasing the risk for potentially serious infections, like pneumococcal pneumonia.3,4 Adults 65 and older are over 10 times more likely to be hospitalized with pneumococcal pneumonia than adults 18-49.7

How is it different than a cold or the flu?

Pneumococcal pneumonia is caused by bacteria that live in the upper respiratory tract and can be spread by coughing or close contact. Flu and the common cold are caused by viruses.2 A good time to remember to speak to your health care provider about pneumococcal pneumonia is when you are getting vaccinated against the flu.

If you’re 65 or older, talk to your doctor about whether vaccination to help prevent this potentially serious disease is right for you. To find out more, visit AllAboutYourBoom.com.

1National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. What causes Pneumonia http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/pnu/causes. Accessed Nov. 14, 2018.
2Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pneumococcal Disease: Risk Factors & Transmission. http://www.cdc.gov/pneumococcal/about/risk-transmission.html. Accessed Nov. 14, 2018.
3Weinberger B, Herndler-Brandstetter D, Schwanninger A, et al. Biology of immune responses to vaccines in elderly persons. Clin Infect Dis. 2008; 46:1078-1084.
4Data on file. Pfizer Inc, New York, N.Y.
5Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pneumococcal Disease: Symptoms & Complications. http://www.cdc.gov/pneumococcal/about/symptoms-complications.html. Accessed Nov. 14, 2018.
6Mandell G, Bennett J, Dolin R. Mandell, Douglas and Bennett2’s Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 7th Edition. Streptococcus Pneumoniae. 2623-2642.
7Ramirez, J. Adults Hospitalized with Pneumonia in the United States: Incidence, Epidemiology and Mortality. Open Forum Infectious Diseases. 2017; 4: Figure 2.
By Debbie Musser
Debbie Musser is a freelance writer and editor who enjoys digging in and researching health topics. She most recently was editor of Woodbury Magazine in Woodbury, Minn., where she resides, following a 25-year career in public relations and corporate communications in Minneapolis/St. Paul.

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