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Protection against pneumococcal disease essential for older adults

Each year in the United States, about 18,000 adults 65 years or older die and thousands more end up in the hospital because of infections caused by pneumococcal bacteria. Since the 1980s, older adults have been recommended to get the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine, which protects against blood and certain other pneumococcal infections.

The Centers for Disease Control now recommends that adults 65 years or older also receive the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine, which provides added protection against pneumonia caused by pneumococcal bacteria. Getting both vaccines offers the best protection we have available against pneumococcal disease.

Pneumococcal disease is an infection caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria. Pneumococcal bacteria spread from person-to-person through coughing and sneezing. People sometimes have the bacteria in their nose and throat without feeling sick, but can still spread it to other people.

When pneumococcal bacteria spread from the nose and throat to ears or sinuses, it generally causes mild illness. When the bacteria spread into other parts of the body, it leads to severe health problems such as infections of the lungs (pneumonia), blood (bacteremia), and lining of the brain and spinal cord (meningitis). These illnesses can lead to disability like deafness, brain damage, or loss of arms or legs. These illnesses can also be life-threatening.

People with certain health conditions or who are taking medications that weaken the body’s immune system are at increased risk for complications from pneumococcal disease. This is why CDC recommends that these adults (19 years or older) get pneumococcal vaccination as well.

“Thousands of older adults die and many more are hospitalized from pneumococcal disease every year, but many adults aren’t aware that there are vaccines that can prevent it,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director for CDC. “A lot of adults get their flu vaccine this time of year, which is a great time to get pneumococcal and other vaccines as well.”

Pneumococcal vaccines may be available at private doctor offices, public or community health clinics, or pharmacies. Check with your doctor or pharmacist or use the http://vaccine.healthmap.org to help find places that provide pneumococcal vaccines near you.

Most private health insurance covers pneumococcal vaccines. Check with your insurance provider for details on whether there is any cost to you and for a list of in-network vaccine providers. Medicare Part B covers the cost of both pneumococcal vaccines (when administered at least one year apart).

Talk to your health-care professional to make sure you are up-to-date on flu and pneumococcal vaccination, as well as other vaccines that may be recommended for you based on your age, health condition, job, lifestyle, or other factors.

For more information, visit www.cdc.gov/features/adult-pneumococcal/.

To Your Health is provided by the staff of Boulder City Hospital. For more information, call 702-293-4111, ext. 576, or visit bouldercity hospital.org.

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