As we say goodbye to another summer, signals for fall are appearing: changing leaves, school buses, football, and of course, advertisements urging you to get that flu shot.
These days, about 40 percent of adults ages 18 to 64 get a flu shot, but many who are at risk for pneumococcal disease, another major health threat, don’t get vaccinated against it – even though the vaccine is also available at doctors’ offices and many pharmacies.
Pneumococcal disease is an infection caused by the Streptococcus pneumoniae bacterium, also known as pneumococcus. Infection can result in pneumonia, infection of the blood, middle-ear infection, or bacterial meningitis. The bacterium spreads from person to person through respiratory droplets. People may become infected if someone with the disease coughs or sneezes in close proximity.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that adults over age 65 should be vaccinated against pneumococcal disease. But younger adults with risk factors such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD (which affects about 7 percent of Georgians), heart disease, asthma, diabetes, liver disease and other chronic conditions are also at a higher risk of contracting the disease.
In fact, some estimates show that as many as one-third of adults aged 18-64 have a chronic medical condition that increases their risk for contracting pneumococcal disease. Yet just 20 percent of all high-risk adults under age 64 were immunized against pneumococcal disease last year, according to the CDC.
And if people living with COPD contract pneumococcal disease, they are at risk for their underlying condition getting worse. Often, what COPD patients think is a slight cold can turn gravely serious, very quickly.
That is why it is critical to talk to your doctor about preventing pneumococcal disease, especially if you have an underlying health condition. Vaccines are the best tool for preventing pneumococcal disease, and adults with chronic conditions should be vaccinated to protect their short- and long-term health.
Make sure your doctor knows all your medical conditions. And if you live with a chronic illness, are over age 65 or have a young child who might be at risk, talk to you doctor about vaccines that are available to prevent pneumococcal disease.
If you fit into any of those categories, the reality is that the flu vaccine isn’t the only immunization you should think about this fall.
Kip Adams is chief corporate relations officer at COPD Foundation. He lives in Atlanta.