WRNMMC, Bethesda, MD –
Since 2009, Nov. 12 has been observed as World Pneumonia Day to draw attention to the preventable respiratory infection responsible for millions of cases and deaths globally each year.
Pneumonia can often be prevented with vaccines and other healthy living practices, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Causes of pneumonia include viruses, bacteria, and fungi, with the most common causes of viral pneumonia in the United States being influenza viruses (flu), respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19).
Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) is currently offering beneficiaries and staff the flu and COVID-19 vaccines Monday through Friday in the Arrowhead Zone, Bldg. 9, at the COVID Vaccine Site. No appointment is necessary, the vaccines are free, but a Common Access Card (CAC) or military identification card is required.
Common causes of bacterial pneumonia are Streptococcus pneumoniae (pneumococcus) and, mycoplasma pneumoniae, especially in kids, the CDC reports.
Some less common causes of pneumonia include adenovirus infection, chickenpox, chlamydia pneumoniae infection, fungal infections, haemophilus influenzae, measles, pertussis (whooping cough) and psittacosis.
According to the CDC, some people are more at risk to get pneumonia, including adults 65 years or older; children younger than 5 years old; people who have certain ongoing medical conditions; and people who smoke cigarettes.
In the United States, vaccines can help prevent infection by some of the bacteria and viruses that can cause pneumonia, including those for COVID-19, haemophilus influenzae type B, influenza (flu), measles, pertussis (whooping cough), pneumococcal, and varicella (chickenpox).
“The COVID-19 vaccines have been demonstrated to reduce the risk of hospitalization and death from the virus, particularly in the elderly and in those with weakened immune systems or other medical diagnoses/co-morbidities. For those not in high-risk groups, getting the vaccine lessens the chances of spreading the virus to those who may be susceptible (parents or grandparents),” according to Navy Capt. (Dr.) Rachel Lee, chief of Allergy Immunology and Immunizations at WRNMMC.
She added that vaccines are safe, but side effects can occur. Most side effects are mild and go away on their own within a few days.
“Vaccines, like any medication, have side effects and risks however the risk of serious outcomes including death is much higher from the disease itself than from the vaccine. If you have specific concerns about a vaccine or a specific side effect, make an appointment with your primary care provider to discuss these concerns,” Lee said.
In addition to vaccinations, the CDC recommend avoiding people who are sick. “If you are sick, stay away from others as much as possible to keep from getting them sick.”
You can also help prevent respiratory infections by:
• Washing your hands regularly
• Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces that are frequently touched
• Coughing or sneezing into a tissue or into your elbow or sleeve
• Limiting contact with cigarette smoke or quitting smoking
• Taking good care of medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, or heart disease)
• Get adequate sleep, exercise, eat a healthy diet and manage stress
According to health care providers, the symptoms of pneumonia can vary depending on the type of germ causing the infection, age of the person, as well as the person’s overall health. Mild symptoms are like those of a cold or flu, but for pneumonia, the signs last longer.
Those signs and symptoms may include:
• Chest pain when you breathe or cough
• Confusion or changes in mental awareness (in adults aged 65 or older)
• Cough, which may produce phlegm
• Fever, sweating and shaking chills
• Lower than normal body temperature (in adults older than age 65 and people with weak immune systems)
• Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
• Shortness of breath
Newborns and infants may not show any sign of the infection, or they may vomit, have a fever and cough, appear restless or tired and without energy, or have difficulty breathing and eating.
You should see a doctor if you have difficulty breathing, chest pain, persistent fever of 102 F (39 C) or higher, or persistent cough, especially if you're coughing up pus, health care providers recommend. It's especially important that people in these high-risk groups see a doctor:
• Adults older than age 65
• Children younger than age 2 with signs and symptoms
• People with an underlying health condition or weakened immune system
For some older adults and people with heart or chronic lung problems, pneumonia can quickly become a life-threatening condition.
More information about pneumonia, visit the CDC website at www.cdc.gov/pneumonia/index.html.