Pneumonia is a serious infectious disease and should never be taken lightly. It is one of the leading causes of sickness and death in the country, according to the Department of Health (DoH). Pneumonia is a bacterial infection caused by Streptococcus pneumonia, more commonly known as the pneumococcus (plural: pneumococci). Pneumococcal disease, which refers to any type of infection caused by pneumococci, includes pneumonia, meningitis (inflammation of the meninges, the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord) and febrile bacteremia (presence of bacteria in the blood); otitis media (ear infection), sinusitis and bronchitis. Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) is the second most common cause of bacterial pneumonia.
Pneumococcal disease is a major public health problem worldwide, particularly in developing countries where young children and the elderly are most affected.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that worldwide about one million children die of pneumococcal disease every year. Pneumonia is the leading vaccine-preventable death in the country.
Common signs of pneumonia include cough, fever, and difficulty breathing.
The first step to protect yourself from pneumonia is by staying away from sick individuals. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides the following tips on how to prevent respiratory infections:
• Wash your hands regularly.
• Clean surfaces that are touched often.
• Cough or sneeze into a tissue or your sleeve.
• Avoid cigarette smoke or quit smoking.
• Manage chronic medical conditions (like asthma, diabetes, or heart disease).
Vaccines can also help prevent infection by some of the bacteria and viruses that can cause pneumonia. There are two kinds of pneumococcal vaccines available. According to the CDC, there are vaccines available for children younger than 2 years old, adults 65 years or older, people from 2 through 64 years old with certain medical conditions, and adults 19 through 64 years old who smoke cigarettes.
In 2013, the DoH included the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine in its Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI). In 2016, the DoH launched the Expanded Pneumococcal Immunization Program for Senior Citizens. Under the program, all Filipino senior citizens aged 60 and 65 years old can avail of free pneumococcal vaccination in their respective health centers. The vaccine will comprise of two doses: senior citizens aged 60 years old will be given the first dose and will receive the second dose after five years. Those aged 65 will receive one dose of the vaccine.
The WHO stressed that immunization against Hib, pneumococcus, measles and whooping cough (pertussis) is the most effective way to prevent pneumonia. Despite this knowledge, the country’s immunization coverage has been declining in recent years. This has led the Philippine Medical Association (PMA), Philippine Foundation for Vaccination (PFV), Philippine Alliance of Patient Organizations (PAPO) and Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP) to give wholehearted support to the DoH in its campaign to disseminate the overwhelming scientific evidence supporting vaccination, and to regain public confidence in the government’s immunization program.
Public trust in vaccines is crucial to achieving adequate immunization coverage to ensure population-level immunity. Immunization prevents vaccine-preventable diseases from causing sickness and death among Filipino children and adults.
For more information about vaccination, please consult your physician.
Teodoro B. Padilla is the executive director of the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP). Medicine Cabinet is a weekly PHAP column which aims to promote awareness on public health and health care-related issues.