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Pneumonia Can Be Prevented—Vaccines Can Help

Doctor looking at chest x-rayPneumonia, an infection of the lungs, needlessly affects millions of people worldwide each year. Pneumonia infections can often be prevented and can usually be treated.

Every 20 seconds, somewhere in the world, a child dies from pneumonia. Globally, pneumonia kills more than 1 million children younger than 5 years of age each year. This is greater than the number of deaths from any infectious disease, such as HIV infection, malaria or tuberculosis.

Pneumonia isn't just a public health issue in developing countries though. For example, each year in the United States, about 1 million people are hospitalized with pneumonia, and about 50,000 people die from the disease. Most of the hospitalizations and deaths from pneumonia in the United States are in adults rather than in young children.

Many of these deaths—both globally and in the United States—are preventable through vaccination and appropriate treatment (like antibiotics and antivirals).

New Pneumococcal Recommendations for 2014

CDC now recommends 2 pneumococcal vaccines for adults 65 years or older.

  • You should receive a dose of the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13) first, followed by a dose of the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23), ideally 6 to 12 months later.
  • If you've already received any doses of PPSV23, the dose of PCV13 should be given at least 1 year after receipt of the most recent PPSV23 dose.
  • If you've already received a dose of PCV13 at a younger age, another dose is not recommended.

Lower Your Risk with Vaccines

In the United States, there are several vaccines that prevent infection by bacteria or viruses that may cause pneumonia:

  • Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib)
  • Influenza (flu)
  • Measles
  • Pertussis (whooping cough)
  • Pneumococcal
  • Varicella (chickenpox)

These vaccines are safe, but side effects can occur. Most side effects are mild or moderate, meaning they do not affect daily activities. See the vaccine information statements for each vaccine to learn more about the most common side effects.

Protect Your Health with These Healthy Living Practices

Try to avoid close contact with sick people. While sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them. Following good hygiene practices can also help prevent respiratory infections. This includes washing your hands regularly, cleaning frequently touched surfaces, and coughing or sneezing into a tissue or into your elbow or sleeve. You can also reduce your risk of getting pneumonia by limiting exposure to cigarette smoke and treating and preventing conditions like diabetes.

Chest x-ray of patient with pneumonia

Chest x-ray of an adult patient with pneumonia.

What Is Pneumonia?

Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs that can cause mild to severe illness in people of all ages. Common signs of pneumonia can include cough, fever, and trouble breathing.

Who Is At Risk for Pneumonia?

Certain people are more likely to become ill with pneumonia:

  • Adults 65 years of age or older
  • Children younger than 5 years of age
  • People who have underlying medical conditions (like asthma, diabetes or heart disease)
  • People who smoke cigarettes

Encourage friends and loved ones with certain health conditions, like diabetes and asthma, to get vaccinated against the flu and bacterial pneumonia.

Causes and Types of Pneumonia

Pneumonia can be caused by viruses, bacteria, and fungi. In the United States, common causes of viral pneumonia are influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and a common cause of bacterial pneumonia is Streptococcus pneumoniae (pneumococcus).

When someone develops pneumonia in the community (not in a hospital), it's called community-acquired pneumonia. Pneumonia developed during or following a stay in a healthcare facility (like hospitals, long-term care facilities, and dialysis centers) is called healthcare-associated pneumonia, which includes hospital-acquired pneumonia and ventilator-associated pneumonia.  The bacteria and viruses that most commonly cause pneumonia in the community are different from those in healthcare settings. It is important to know the specific cause of pneumonia to make the best decision about how to treat it.

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