Awareness, vaccination needed on pneumonia

lung radiography, pneumonia awareness

The Lung Foundation is urging Australians to become more aware of the potentially life-threatening disease pneumonia, and encouraging vaccination.

Fewer than one in seven Australian adults at risk of pneumonia consider themselves vulnerable, with only one in five having reported vaccinating against the often-fatal lung infection, the Foundation says.

In addition to advancing age (65+), Lung Foundation Australia’s ‘Lungs4Life’ research released today to mark Pneumonia Awareness Week (May 17-24, 2015) revealed more than 35% of Australians aged 18-to-64 are at increased risk of contracting pneumococcal pneumonia, due to smoking or a chronic medical condition.

Respiratory physician and Lung Foundation Australia National Council member, Associate Professor Lucy Morgan, Sydney, says 60% of those aged 65-to-74 have not had a pneumococcal pneumonia vaccination despite the majority of this age group (59%) carrying additional risk factors for infection, including smoking, diabetes or heart disease.

“Pneumococcal pneumonia is a severe lung infection caused by the bacterium Streptococcus pneumoniae, responsible for a large proportion of pneumonia cases among those aged 65 years and above,” says A/Prof Morgan.

“Worryingly, our research shows vaccination is simply not a priority for Australians, who are most at-risk of contracting the disease,” she says.

Australian survey respondents cite the most important factors associated with ageing well include eating healthily (40%) or exercising regularly (30%), compared to genetics (13%).

Lifestyle factors are also considered more important than regular GP check-ups (10%), while health condition and age-related vaccinations are a staggeringly low 2%.

“Australians know they need to eat better and exercise regularly, but they don’t seem to be aware of the importance of protecting against preventable infections, such as pneumococcal pneumonia,” said A/Prof Morgan.

Practicing good hygiene is also vital to help avoid the spread of infection, including regular hand-washing, keeping household surfaces clean, and learning to recognise the symptoms of pneumococcal pneumonia, including rapid or difficulty breathing, cough, fever, chills or loss of appetite.

Pneumonia-like illness (pneumonia and influenza) is among the top 15 contributing causes of death in Australia.

This Pneumonia Awareness Week, Lung Foundation Australia is urging all Australians aged 18 and above who are considered at-risk of contracting pneumonia, people aged 65 or older, and those eligible for a second vaccine after five years, to recognise its seriousness and protect against the infection.

A/Prof Morgan says each year, the number of new cases of pneumococcal pneumonia rises exponentially among those aged between 50-and-80 years, to nearly 200 per 100,000.

“That’s why it’s imperative Australians in this age group take all steps to protect themselves, including speaking to their doctor about vaccination,” she says.

Pneumococcal vaccination is funded under the National Immunisation Program for all Australians aged 65 and over, with many eligible for a second vaccine five years following their first dose.

Australian Immunisation Guidelines also recommend pneumococcal vaccination for people living with chronic medical conditions.

University of Sydney infectious diseases and immunisation expert, Professor Robert Booy, says pneumococcal pneumonia should not be underestimated.

“Pneumococcal pneumonia is responsible for more than one-and-a-half million deaths each year, worldwide,” he says.

“It’s concerning that 63% of survey respondents aged 18-to-64 years who have a risk factor that predisposes them to pneumonia infection, believe they are at low risk of contracting pneumonia.

“In fact, even among those respondents aged 65-74 years, only 12% consider themselves at high risk of contracting pneumonia despite being in an age category that puts them at an increased risk.

“However, once advised of the seriousness of the infection, and that it is a leading cause of death, 73% of those aged 65-to-74 years said the seriousness of infection would prompt them to seek vaccination,” says Prof Booy.

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