BETTER HEALTH: Meredith Lores wants people with chronic health conditions and those aged 65 and over to act now to get a free pneumococcal vaccine.
BETTER HEALTH: Meredith Lores wants people with chronic health conditions and those aged 65 and over to act now to get a free pneumococcal vaccine.

Act now to avoid a killer lung infection

DON'T tempt waking a sleeping dragon if you are over 65 and have the flu or have a chronic disease; get a pneumococcal injection now.

Take this message seriously said Professor Robert Booy, an Infectious Diseases Paediatrician and Immunisation Coalition chairperson. "It could keep you out of hospital and even save your life," Dr Booy added.

Ignore his warning and you could find yourself developing a life-threatening case of pneumonia.

"Anyone aged 65 and above is at risk of pneumonia," Dr Booy said. "That can be quite serious. If you are admitted to hospital with pneumonia, there is a 10 per cent chance of dying from it despite the fact that you get good management in hospital with antibiotics."

Meredith Lores, 62, has just spent five weeks in a Brisbane hospital getting over hospital acquired pneumonia. She was there to receive her regular treatment for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

"I wasn't shocked I got pneumonia in hospital as you can pick it up anywhere," she said. "I was in hospital two weeks prior to that and somehow picked it up from there not realising. After I came out, after a few days I started going downhill again."

It's best to prevent rather than trying to cure.

As Mrs Lores fits into the high-risk category she had her first pneumococcal vaccine about four years ago and is due for a booster next year.

"My GP, even with the flu, has suggested I get one in October again, just to cover me," Mrs Lores said. "I was just about to come home from hospital with pneumonia when I got Influenza A."

GPs offer free pneumococcal vaccines to those at high risk of the infection and to people aged over 65.

So far, only about one in two people at risk are vaccinating against pneumococcal pneumonia.

If you under 65 and have chronic medical conditions that affect the heart, liver, kidneys, lungs, or are smokers or diabetics, are all at risk. Others at risk are Indigenous Australians who are aged 50 and over.

"It's a must; it shouldn't be a question," Mrs Lores said about getting a pneumococcal vaccine. "My daughter is 28 and she gets the flu injection as she is around me and she knows how sick I can get. I think for anyone 65 or plus, and those susceptible to that or with chronic diseases, you have got to get it."

"It's not a question in my mind that people need to get it. Then it might stop others getting it," she added.

Flu is a virus and causes respiratory symptoms and if it is severe, it can lead to pneumonia.

"You can get a secondary bacterial infection," Dr Booy said. "On top of the virus the bacteria comes in, like the pneumococcus, and that is quietly carried in the throat and not causing any trouble. But then the throat gets stirred up by the virus and then the bacteria starts invading the lungs or the blood stream causing severe infection. Often the two hunt together."

That is why it is wise when getting your annual flu vaccine to ask your GP if you are at risk of contracting pneumonia and therefore should also have the free pneumococcal vaccine. It is given once and then repeated in another five years if you have significant risk factors.

Aged Care workers who are in contact with elderly people should also get an annual flu vaccination. "It protects them and also stops them from transmitting to someone in a nursing home or an elderly free-living individual," Dr Booy said.

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