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Pneumonia Can Be Prevented—Vaccines Can Help

Collage of woman testing glucose, mature woman smiling, and teenage boy using inhaler

Pneumonia, an infection of the lungs, needlessly affects millions of people worldwide each year. Pneumonia can often be prevented and can usually be treated. Lower your risk of pneumonia with vaccines and other healthy living practices.

Globally, pneumonia kills nearly 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. Each year in the United States, about 1 million people have to seek care in a hospital due to pneumonia. Unfortunately, about 50,000 people die from the disease each year in the United States. Most of the people affected by pneumonia in the United States are adults.

Vaccines and appropriate treatment (like antibiotics and antivirals) could prevent many of these deaths—globally and in the United States.

Pneumococcal Recommendations for Older Adults

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

  • Get a dose of the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13) first. Then get a dose of the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23) at least 1 year later.
  • If you’ve already received PPSV23, get PCV13 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, CDC does not recommend another dose.

Lower Your Risk with Vaccines

In the United States, vaccines can help prevent infection by some of the bacteria and viruses that can 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 and go away on their own within a few days. 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 stay away from sick people. 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 surfaces that are touched a lot
  • Coughing or sneezing into a tissue or into your elbow or sleeve
  • Limiting contact with cigarette smoke
  • Managing and preventing conditions like diabetes
Chest x-ray of an adult patient with pneumonia

Chest x-ray of an adult patient with pneumonia.

Graphics: World Pneumonia Day. Keep the promise. Stop pneumonia now. November 12th.

World Pneumonia Day is November 12th.

Pneumonia Affects the Young and Old

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.

Some People Are More Likely to Get Pneumonia

Certain people are more likely to get pneumonia:

  • Adults 65 years or older
  • Children younger than 5 years old
  • People who have chronic 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.

Causes and Types of Pneumonia

Viruses, bacteria, and fungi can all cause pneumonia. In the United States, common causes of viral pneumonia are influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). A common cause of bacterial pneumonia is Streptococcus pneumoniae(pneumococcus). However, clinicians are not always able to find out which germ caused someone to get sick with pneumonia.

Community-acquired pneumonia is when someone develops pneumonia in the community (not in a hospital). Healthcare-associated pneumonia is when someone develops pneumonia during or following a stay in a healthcare facility. Healthcare facilities include hospitals, long-term care facilities, and dialysis centers. Ventilator-associated pneumonia is when someone gets pneumonia after being on a ventilator, a machine that supports breathing. The bacteria and viruses that most commonly cause pneumonia in the community are different from those in healthcare settings.

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