Bye, bye bacteria

You’ve probably seen a TV commercial recently for the pneumococcal vaccine and wondered exactly what it’s used for and if you or anyone in your family should receive it. It’s a good question to ask, since certain people are at higher risk for pneumococcal disease – a potentially life-threating illness the vaccine can help to prevent.

“Anyone can get pneumococcal disease, but certain people are more likely than others,” said Anthony Wylie, D.O. “If you or a loved one falls into one of the high-risk categories, you should talk to your doctor to determine if the vaccine is right for you.”

What is pneumococcal disease?
Pneumococcal disease, also called pneumococcus, is an infection caused by a bacteria called Streptococcus pneumoniae. The bacteria can cause a variety of different diseases, some of which can be very dangerous to your health.

You’ve likely heard of pneumonia, which is one of the diseases caused by pneumococcus. Pneumonia is a lung infection that causes you to cough, run a fever, get the chills, and experience chest pain. It’s also the leading cause of infectious death in children under five years old worldwide.

“In addition to pneumonia, pneumococcus can cause ear infections, sinus infections, and an infection of the covering around the brain and spinal cord called meningitis,” said Dr. Wylie.

Pneumococcus is known as an invasive disease, which means it can make its way to parts of your body – like your blood – that are usually free from bacteria. In these cases, the infection can be very severe and require hospitalization. It can even cause death.

Who should get the pneumococcal vaccine?
Not everyone needs the pneumococcal vaccine. Children, older adults and people with certain illnesses and health conditions are at higher risk.

Children may need the vaccine if they:

  • Are younger than 2 years old
  • Live or spend time in group childcare
  • Have diseases such as sickle cell disease, HIV, or heart or lung diseases
  • Have cochlear implants or cerebral spinal fluid leaks

Adults 65 years old and older are also at increased risk and should be vaccinated. Adults between 19 and 64 may benefit from the vaccine if they:

  • Have a chronic illness such as heart, lung, kidney disease, asthma, diabetes or alcoholism
  • Have weakened immune systems due to HIV/AIDS, cancer, or a damaged spleen
  • Smoke cigarettes
  • Have cochlear implants or cerebral spinal fluid leaks
  • There are two different types of pneumococcal vaccine. Your doctor will administer the vaccine that is appropriate for you based on your age and health status.

Certain people should not get the vaccine. If you or your child has a severe allergy, tell your doctor before getting the vaccine. They’ll share the list of the ingredients in the vaccine to make sure it won’t create an allergic reaction.

“If you are pregnant or think you may be pregnant, you shouldn’t receive the vaccine even if you’re in a higher risk category,” said Dr. Wylie. “You should also wait to receive the vaccine if you are sick or feeling under the weather.”

Ask your doctor if the pneumococcal vaccine is right for you. For some people, it can make the difference between life and death.

Anthony Wylie, D.O., is a primary care physician at Geisinger Mt. Pleasant. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Wylie or another primary care physician, please call 570-342-8500 or visit Geisinger.org.