Why Everyone Should Care About World Pneumonia Day
Nov 07, 2019

Tuesday November 12 is World Pneumonia Day. Why is there a day designated to pneumonia, you might wonder?

It was established ten years ago by the World Health Organization to raise awareness about pneumonia because it is the “world’s leading infectious killer of children under the age of 5.” Globally, it is one of the leading causes of death among children under five years old, despite being preventable and treatable. Here in the United States, most pneumococcal deaths occur in adults.


At this point, you are likely wondering:

  • Who is at risk?
  • What symptoms are associated with pneumonia?
  • How can you prevent pneumonia?

Who is at risk of getting pneumonia in the U.S.?

Adults 65 years or older are at increased risk for pneumococcal disease in the United States. In addition, some adults 19 through 64 years old are also at increased risk, including those:

  • With chronic illnesses (lung, heart, liver, or kidney disease; asthma; diabetes; or alcoholism)
  • With conditions that weaken the immune system (HIV/AIDS, cancer, or damaged/absent spleen)
  • Living in nursing homes or other long-term care facilities
  • Who smoke cigarettes

Pneumococcal disease is caused by a bacteria called pneumococcus. The disease is often mild, but can cause serious symptoms, lifelong disability and even death. Pneumococcal disease is spread by coughing and sneezing.

Types of pneumococcal disease include pneumonia (lung infection), meningitis, bloodstream infections (bacteremia and sepsis), middle ear infections and sinus infections.

Children younger than 2 years of age are most likely to have a serious case of pneumococcal disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), each year in the United States, about 900,000 Americans get pneumococcal pneumonia and about 5-7% die from it. Additionally, as many as 400,000 hospitalizations from pneumococcal pneumonia are estimated to occur every year in the U.S.  About 2,000 cases of serious pneumococcal disease occur each year in children under 5 in the U.S. These illnesses can lead to disabilities such as deafness, brain damage, or loss of arms or legs. About 1 in 15 children who get pneumococcal meningitis will die.

What are the symptoms associated with pneumonia?

Symptoms depend on the type of pneumococcal disease, but generally include fever and/or chills. Additional symptoms may include:

  • Cough, rapid breathing or difficulty breathing, and chest pain (pneumonia)
  • Stiff neck, headache, confusion and pain when looking at bright lights (meningitis)
  • Poor eating and drinking, low alertness, and vomiting (meningitis)
  • Low alertness (bacteremia)
  • Ear pain, red/swollen ear drum and sleepiness (middle ear infection)

How can you prevent pneumonia?

Image by Heather Hazzan, SELF Magazine

With safe and effective vaccines! There are two types of pneumococcal vaccines  – pneumococcal conjugate vaccination (PCV13) and pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (also known as PPSV23).

The CDC recommends pneumococcal conjugate vaccination (PCV13) for all children younger than 2 years old. For the best protection children need to receive all four recommended doses of the vaccine.


Your child will need one dose at each of the following ages:

  • 2 months
  • 4 months
  • 6 months
  • 12 through 15 months

The CDC recommends a pneumococcal vaccination for all adults 65 years or older.

  • All adults 65 and older are recommended to receive a dose of 23-valent pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23).
  • Adults 65 and older who are not immunocompromised and who haven’t previously received a dose of pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13) should talk to their healthcare provider about whether the PCV13 vaccine would be beneficial for them.
  • It is also important to get a flu vaccine every year because having the flu increases your chances of getting pneumococcal pneumonia.

For more information about pneumonia, please visit the Vaccinate Your Family web site. This holiday season, make sure you are up-to-date on all your vaccines, along with your family members, before gathering together. To ensure that your entire family is up-to-date on their vaccines, check out the CDC’s recommended immunization schedules and talk to your healthcare provider.

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