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Pneumonia Season Approaches

With loss of flu vaccine, health departments encourage seniors to get pneumonia shot.

The shortage of the flu vaccine has prompted the Virginia Department of Health and the Fairfax County Department of Health to recommend adults 65 years and older to be vaccinated against pneumococcal disease.

"Our five district offices will being giving out the vaccine to people 65 and older," said Kimberly Cordero, spokeswoman for Fairfax County Department of Health.

Cordero said that residents can either walk in to any of the five districts to request the pneumonia vaccine, or they can call ahead to schedule an appointment.

Each year more than 2,000 people die because of complications of either pneumonia or the flu in Virginia, said Robert B. Stroube, State Health Commissioner in a release adding nine out of 10 those deaths occur in people 65 years and older.

The Virginia State Department of Health reports that pneumonia causes about 175,000 hospitalizations each year in the United States, and about one in 20 of those who have pneumococcal pneumonia die from the illness.

"We think it is a great thing for folks to get the vaccine because [pneumonia] is a common complication from the flu," said Cordero, adding with the shortage of flu vaccines this year it is very important residents take extra measures to ensure they stay healthy.

Pneumococcal infections are spread from person to person and mainly through the air. It can be spread by anyone who is infected, even if they show no symptoms and the infections can develop as secondary infections after the initial viral infection, like the flu.

The vaccine offered at the five Fairfax district offices or clinics in Mount Vernon, Springfield, Herndon/Reston, Falls Church and Fairfax, protects against 23 types of pneumococcal bacteria. Those who receive the vaccine are protected within two to three weeks after they have received the vaccination and although usually one dosage is enough, people under 62 years old may need a second dosage.

The state and county department of health recommend the following people receive the vaccine:

o All adults 65 years of age and older.

o Anyone two years of age or older who has a long-term health problem, such as heart disease, lung disease, sickle cell disease, diabetes and alcoholism.

o Anyone two years of age or older who has a disease or condition that lowers the body's resistance to infection, such as HIV or leukemia, or anyone who is taking an immunosuppressive drug, such as certain cancer treatments.

Although the pneumococcal vaccine can be received at any time of the year, the department of health recommends unvaccinated seniors get the shot, which is quick and relatively painless, before the winter months when respiratory diseases are more common.