By Morgan Montalvo
Pneumococcal bacteria are a leading cause of serious infections in children and seniors, and Texas doctors recommend a simple series of vaccinations to prevent any of several life-threatening conditions.
The bacterial strain is associated with pneumonia, meningitis, and blood, brain, lung and ear infections. Many pneumococcal infections are increasingly resistant to standard medical treatments.
Dr. Elizabeth Knapp, an Austin pediatrician, tells News Radio 1200 WOAI that a simple vaccination protocol - four shots for children and two for adults - offer effective, life-long protection from pneumococcal-related health threats.
Without the inoculations, she says, diseases like meningitis can ravage the body over a prolonged period.
"You need antibiotics for a long time, four to six weeks, but then many times there's brain damage that happens after meningitis and that takes a long time to heal from," Knapp says.
On average, about 4,000 people in the U.S. develop meningitis each year. The death toll can reach 15 percent.
Health care providers are concerned about the numbers of seniors who are not protected because they never were inoculated.
"We know that most people who should have gotten the vaccine have not yet gotten that, especially people over 64 years old and people with diabetes or high blood pressure," Knapp says.
She adds that pneumococcal infections are proving increasingly unaffected by the most common treatment: antibiotics.
"The resistance is growing, and especially in people who are over the age of 64 the antibiotics can take a long time to work and it may not be enough time.
"It's better to have never gotten sick," she says.
The first vaccine to prevent pneumococcal-related diseases was introduced in 1977, with the most effective versions, able to reliably protect children under the age of five, became available to the public in 2000.
World Health Organization figures indicated that, each year, about 500,000 children under the age of five die from pneumococcal illnesses.
Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveals about 900,000 Americans contract pneumonia each year. About 63,000 of those hospitalized with pneumonia die from the disease.
Symptoms of pneumococcal infection can vary according to the resultant condition but include breathing difficulty, headaches, fever, nausea and vomiting. Conditions can worsen to include hearing loss, brain damage, or death.