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Love Your Lungs and Avoid a Fatal Lung Infection

Pneumonia infographicAlmost two-in-three Australian seniors may be jeopardising their ‘golden years’ by not protecting against an often fatal lung infection, despite being at increased risk.1

Lung Foundation Australia’s ‘Love Your Lungs at 65 Years Young’ research released today reveals 94 per cent of Australians aged 65 to 74 do not recognise age as a risk factor for pneumonia, while fewer than half correctly understand vaccination can defend against pneumococcal pneumonia1 – a severe form of pneumonia caused by the bacterium Streptococcus pneumoniae2 responsible for 82 per cent of pneumonia cases among those aged 65 years and over.3

According to respiratory physician and Lung Foundation Australia Board Member, A/Prof Lucy Morgan, Sydney, while older Australians focus strongly on heart, skin and breast health, they tend to ignore their lung health, even though pneumonia-like illness (pneumonia and influenza) is among the top 10 contributing causes of death in Australia.4

This Pneumonia Awareness Week (April 28 – May 4) Lung Foundation Australia is urging all Australian seniors aged 65 and over who are considered ‘at-risk’ of contracting pneumonia, and those eligible for a five-year booster vaccine, to recognise its seriousness and protect against the infection.

“This year the number of Australians turning 65 and over will exceed three million,”5 said Dr Morgan. “Each year, the number of new cases of pneumococcal pneumonia rises exponentially among those aged between 50 and 80 years, to nearly 200 per 100,000.3

“That’s why it’s imperative Australians celebrating their ‘golden years’ take advantage of recommended and government-funded vaccination against pneumococcal pneumonia as part of their general health plan,” Dr Morgan said.

Pneumococcal vaccination is listed on the National Immunisation Program (NIP) and funded under Immunise Australia for all Australians aged 65 and over, with many eligible for a second vaccine five years following their first dose.3,6,7

Professor Robert Booy, infectious diseases and immunisation expert, University of Sydney, Sydney, says pneumococcal pneumonia should not be underestimated.

“Pneumococcal pneumonia is responsible for approximately 1.6 million deaths each year worldwide.“It’s concerning that even among those aged 65 and over with additional risk factors, such as diabetes, chronic lung, heart or kidney disease, impaired immunity or being a smoker, the new Lung Foundation Australia research shows only 13 per cent of this age group recognise they are at high risk of contracting pneumococcal pneumonia.

As many as 44 per cent of Australians aged 65 to 74 cite the reason for not having the first pneumococcal pneumonia vaccination is because their doctor has not recommended it, while 39 per cent know nothing about the booster vaccination or why it might be necessary. Furthermore, just 30 per cent of survey respondents who had not been vaccinated against pneumococcal pneumonia, intend to do so in the future.1

“While the message about influenza vaccination is clearly resonating, the message about pneumococcal pneumonia vaccination is not,” said Prof Booy.

The new research reveals Australians aged 65 to 74 are more likely to have been vaccinated against the flu (74 per cent) than pneumococcal pneumonia (39 per cent). While pneumonia often arises after a cold or flu, 61 per cent of survey respondents fail to differentiate between the flu and pneumonia.1

“Worryingly, Australian seniors cannot differentiate between pneumonia and the flu1 and how best to protect themselves,” Prof Booy said.

Mother of three adult children, Angela, 66, Sydney, who is living with permanent lung damage following a double pneumonia infection, says it’s easy to neglect your health until you experience something as debilitating as pneumonia.

 “When I was diagnosed with double pneumonia, I felt polluted. My lungs were filled with fluid, my breathing was completely restricted, I couldn’t move, I felt stuck.  “The infection was so severe that it’s left me with bronchiectasis, which has resulted in scarred, wider and looser airways in my lungs,” said Angela.

“I’m now stuck with a permanent lung condition, I can no longer breathe as deeply as I used to, exercise is hard and it’s completely slowed me down.”

This Pneumonia Awareness Week, Lung Foundation Australia is urging seniors to be aware of the seriousness of pneumonia and to ‘Love Your Lungs at 65 Years Young’, by protecting against this potentially life-threatening infection.

“It’s important for Australian seniors to understand that their age alone puts them at heightened risk of contracting pneumonia,” said Lung Foundation Australia Director, Ms Heather Allan.  “Australians aged 65 and over should talk to their doctor about how best to protect against pneumococcal pneumonia, including government-subsidised vaccination.” 

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Alana Lowes

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