Last updated May 30, 2019 at 4:11 pm
One-in-10 Australians aged over 65 years hospitalised with pneumonia will die from the lung infection.
This year’s ‘flu season is shaping up to one of the most deadly in years.
More than 44,000 cases of the ‘flu have already been confirmed, triple the number of cases at the same time last year.
This has caused doctors to urge people to vaccinate against pneumococcal pneumonia, the killer lung infection that can work in tandem with ‘flu.
Pneumonia is a sleeping dragon
Pneumococcal pneumonia is an inflammatory lung infection that kills 1-in-10 people over the age of 65 years old hospitalised with the infection. Often co-occurring with the flu, together they are Australia’s ninth leading cause of death. Symptoms include fever, cough and difficulty breathing.
Writing in an article published in MJA Insights, infectious disease expert Robert Booy says that most people carry the pneumococcal pneumonia bacteria in their throat. But it’s when that bacteria is combined with another infection that it can become deadly.
That makes the bacteria a dangerous sleeping dragon.
“All it takes is a simple lung or flu infection, particularly in those at-risk (people aged 65+ and those with medical and lifestyle risk factors), to wake the sleeping dragon and develop into a life-threatening case of pneumonia.”
What makes the infection so deadly is the way it impacts oxygen transfer.
During normal respiration, air travels through the lungs and into the Alveoli, or air sacs in the lungs. When infected with pneumococcal pneumonia, the air sacs fill with fluid which obstructs the air travel.
This can often lead to hospitalisation and in severe cases, death.
Vaccination is critical
The vaccination rate for the annual ‘flu shot is high in older Australians. However, only half are getting vaccinated against pneumococcal pneumonia.
“Flu often develops into pneumonia. Although older Australians are increasingly having an annual ‘flu shot, only one-in-two are vaccinating against pneumococcal pneumonia, leaving them vulnerable to the killer lung infection,” says Booy.
Both the ‘flu and pneumonia vaccinations “hunt together”. This means that the vaccinations for both can be given at the same time.
“There are two vaccines against pneumococcus and ‘flu. Because those two bugs hunt together having those two vaccines are even more effective. “
“Pneumonia is a leading cause of hospitalisation in Australia and vaccination is your best defence against contracting pneumococcal pneumonia. It’s also very important that people practice good hygiene, so washing their hands, maintaining clean surfaces, and avoiding others, including staying away from workplaces, if they feel symptomatic. All of those things are incredibly important, but it is absolutely critical to remember that pneumococcal pneumonia is vaccine preventable.”
Those at risk of infection
Pneumonia can affected anyone, however there are people who are more at risk.
Also at risk are sufferers of chronic medical illnesses such as lung, kidney, heart and liver disease, as well as those with impaired chronic immunity.