Pharmacists can identify pneumococcal pneumonia risk

pneumococcal pneumonia

Pharmacists can help make senior customers aware of their risk of contracting pneumococcal pneumonia, says the Lung Foundation, particularly given pharmacy’s growing role in flu prevention.

The Foundation is urging Australians, particularly “super seniors” – people in their mid-60s and older who have good health and an interest in wellbeing – to be vaccinated against the disease.

The Lung Foundation’s “Breathe well, age well” research has revealed that 66% of Australian adults consider themselves to be younger and fitter than their parents were at their age, and in the 65-74 age group this rises to 87%.

However, the majority of people in this age group don’t believe that contracting pneumococcal pneumonia would have a major impact on their lives.

“Most people are aware of, and know about flu vaccination, but there’s a lot less awareness of pneumococcal pneumonia vaccination,” Lung Foundation CEO Heather Allan told the AJP.

“Also, unlike the flu vaccine which can easily be administered to any individual in pharmacy, pneumococcal vaccination is age and risk category dependent and therefore, is administered by doctors.

“However, as we head into the winter months particularly, pharmacists are in a great position to speak with, and identify patients who may at risk of pneumococcal pneumonia, and refer them to their GP for pneumococcal pneumonia vaccination.

“This can be achieved firstly, by understanding which of the patients coming in to pharmacy for a flu shot may also fall into a pneumonia risk category, remembering age itself is a risk factor.

“Secondly, pharmacists can provide information on the risk of hospitalisation and death from pneumococcal pneumonia to all patients over 65 years and advise them on how to best protect against the often fatal lung infection.”

Respiratory physician and Lung Foundation Australia National Council member, Associate Professor Lucy Morgan, says while the super seniors’ positive attitude towards their health is admirable, 52% of this age group surveyed are at increased risk of contracting pneumococcal pneumonia through an existing medical condition or lifestyle factors (current or past smoking).

“We are seeing the rise of a generation of healthy, fit and fabulous Australians in their mid-60s who love to travel and to care for their grandchildren,” A/Prof Morgan says.

“They take good care of themselves, and are dedicated to ‘adding years to life’, by exercising and eating well, but don’t realise that developing pneumococcal pneumonia could change all of that.

“The stark reality is, all adults aged 65 and over are at increased risk of contracting pneumococcal pneumonia due to their age alone, and pneumococcal vaccination can ‘add life to years.”

Pneumococcal pneumonia is responsible for a large proportion of pneumonia cases among people aged 65 years and above.

“While the majority of Australians (64%) aged 18-74 have had a flu shot at some stage in their lives, only 20% of those at highest risk of infection, cite they have been vaccinated against this often fatal lung infection,” says A/Prof Morgan.

The ‘Breathe well, age well’ research found the majority of Australians at risk of pneumococcal pneumonia do not intend to vaccinate against the preventable infection.

Pneumonia Awareness Week runs from May 9 to 15, 2016.

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