The best way to prevent serious respiratory infections such as pneumonia is to avoid sick people (if possible), and to practice good hygiene. [See In-Depth Report #94: Colds and influenza.]
Colds and flu are spread primarily from infected people who cough or sneeze. A very common method for transmitting a cold is by shaking hands. Research has found that washing hands frequently can prevent the spread of viral respiratory illnesses. Always wash your hands before eating and after going outside. Using ordinary soap is sufficient. Alcohol-based gels are also effective for everyday use, and may even kill cold viruses. If extreme hygiene is required, use alcohol-based rinses.
Antibacterial soaps add little protection, particularly against viruses. In fact, one study suggested that common liquid dishwashing soaps are up to 100 times more effective than antibacterial soaps in killing respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). Wiping surfaces with a solution that contains one part bleach to 10 parts water is very effective at killing viruses.
Bacteria abound in hospitals and long-term care facilities, and are particularly able to cause disease in areas with the sickest patients, such as intensive care units. Health care facilities are changing many of their practices and educating physicians, nurses, and therapists on how to reduce the likelihood of transmitting bacteria.
Viral Influenza Vaccines (Flu Shot)
Description of Vaccines. Vaccines against the flu (or a "flu shot") use inactivated (not live) viruses. They are designed to provoke the immune system to attack antigens contained on the surface of the virus. Antigens are foreign molecules that the immune system recognizes and targets for attack.
Timing and Effectiveness of the Vaccine. Ideally, people should get a flu shot every October or November. However, it may take longer for a full supply of the vaccine to reach certain locations. In such cases, high-risk groups should get vaccinated first.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), anyone who wants to reduce their risk of getting the flu should have a flu vaccine.
Older children and adults require only a single shot each year. However, children under age 9 may need two shots given 1 month apart the first time they receive the flu vaccine, or if they have not previously received two doses during a flu season.
Some people have a higher risk of the disease.
The following people should get a flu vaccine every year:
You should be vaccinated each year if you:
The flu shot is encouraged for:
The pneumococcal vaccine protects against S. pneumoniae bacteria, the most common cause of respiratory infections. There are two effective vaccines available:
Experts are now recommending that more people, including healthy elderly people, be given the pneumococcal vaccine, particularly in light of the increase in antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Pneumococcal Vaccine in Young Children. The pneumococcal vaccine (Prevnar or PCV7) is very effective in children. Routine vaccination with the PCV7 vaccine began in 2000. The vaccine cut the rate of infant hospitalizations for pneumonia by a third between 1997 - 1999 and 2006. Possibly due to "herd immunity," pneumonia-related hospital admissions in adults ages 18 - 39 also dropped by more than 25%.
Evidence suggests that this vaccination, plus the vaccination against Haemophilus influenzae (an important cause of meningitis), have led to 25,000 fewer cases of serious bacterial infections each year.
The pneumococcal vaccine is now recommended by many experts for all children up to age 2. The pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (Prevnar or PCV7) has now been added to the Recommended Childhood Immunization Schedule. The pneumococcal vaccine (Prevnar or PCV7) is very effective in children. Studies are suggesting that it prevents common ear infections, as well as serious infections such as pneumonia.
The recommended schedule of immunization for Prevnar (PCV7) is four doses, given at 2, 4, 6, and 12 - 15 months of age. Infants starting immunization between 7 and 11 months should have three doses. Children starting their vaccinations between 12 and 23 months need only two doses. Those who are over 2 years old need only one dose.
Pneumococcal Polysaccharide Vaccine in Older Children and Adults. The pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine is proving to help reduce the rate of pneumonia in older children and adults. Its benefits for adults are unclear.
Still, pneumonia is declining among adults, which may be due to fewer infections transmitted from vaccinated young children.
The vaccine is recommended for:
A single dose of the vaccine is given by injection. One dose works for most people. However, re-vaccination is recommended for people over age 65 who received their first dose before age 65 and more than 5 years ago. Other high-risk people, including those with a weakened immune system or spleen problems may also need a second dose. You should speak with your doctor about specific reasons for vaccination and revaccination.
Because the vaccine is inactive, it is safe for pregnant women and people with immune problems. In fact, when the vaccine is given to pregnant women, it may actually protect their infants against certain respiratory infections.
Protection lasts for more than 6 years in most people, although it may wear off faster in elderly people than in younger adults. Anyone at risk for serious pneumonia should be revaccinated 6 years after the first dose, including those who were vaccinated before age 65. Later booster doses, however, are not recommended.
A simple way to help prevent RSV infection is to wash your hands often, especially before touching your baby. It is important to make sure that other people, especially caregivers, take precautions to avoid giving RSV to your baby. The following simple steps can help protect your baby:
Prevention of RSV. Two medications have been approved for protecting high-risk children against RSV pneumonia:
Although some research supports the use of vitamin C for the prevention and treatment of pneumonia, most research says it's too early to recommend vitamin C supplements for the general population. These supplements may be helpful for pneumonia patients who are deficient in the vitamin, however.
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