Pneumonia. It’s a scary term, but you may not know much about its signs, symptoms, or what you can do to protect yourself against it.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 1 million Americans end up hospitalized each year due to pneumonia, with 50,000 dying from the disease. However, by taking time to educate yourself about the disease and its vaccine, you can avoid becoming part of these statistics.
We spoke with Anita Moorjani, MD, pediatric medicine specialist who works with graduate medical education at Florida Hospital, to break down what you need to know to keep yourself and your loved ones healthy.
First of all: what exactly is pneumonia?
“Pneumonia is inflammation or infection of the lung tissues,” explains Dr. Moorjani. The cause varies between age groups. In infants and young children, pneumonia is usually attributed to viruses like respiratory syncytial virus, commonly called RSV, metapneumovirus, or influenza. Children and adults may have “walking pneumonia,” caused by mycoplasma bacteria, which causes respiratory infections.
What are the symptoms?
Pneumonia symptoms differ based on the age of an infected person. Infants may suffer from fever, breathing and feeding problems, and full-body infection. In young children, there’s greater concern over the infection spreading to the blood or the brain. Adults and older children usually experience cough, shortness of breath, runny noses, chest tightness, and fevers.
Typically, it takes around five days to recover from viral pneumonia, and about two to three days after starting antibiotics to recover from bacterial pneumonia.
Who is the most at risk?
“Anyone with a suppressed immune system has an increased risk of contracting pneumonia,” Dr. Moorjani says. This includes young infants and the elderly, as well as people on medications like cancer drugs or steroids. Unvaccinated children and patients with underlying heart and lung disease are also more at risk.
How does the vaccine work? Do I need a vaccine?
Dr. Moorjani explains, “The pneumococcal vaccine, or PCV13, is recommended by the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics as part of a routine vaccine series starting at two months of age.”
There are four vaccines total for maximum protection against the disease, and all are normally received within the first year of life, when children are at their highest risk for infection.
Another vaccine, PPSV23, offers further protection against different strains of pneumonia.
“This vaccine is indicated for children over age 2 who have high-risk conditions like sickle-cell disease, HIV, chronic renal disease, or immunodeficiency,” Dr. Moorjani says. Children with these conditions should receive both vaccines for protection against infection. Adults, age 65 and over, should also receive both PPSV23 and PCV13, as immunity to the disease can wane over time.
“These vaccines are very safe,” Dr. Moorjani says. “The most common side effects are pain at the injection site and a mild fever for one to three days after the vaccination.”