Senior citizens at risk for pneumonia

November 10, 2004

The recent flu vaccine shortage has focused attention on elderly people's risk for infection. Like the flu, pneumonia can also cause serious health problems for older people. More than 900,000 cases of community-acquired pneumonia occur each year among seniors in the United States, according to an article in the December 1 issue of Clinical Infectious Diseases, now available online.

Pneumonia is a leading cause of death among the elderly. Community-acquired pneumonia, or CAP, is so termed because it is contracted outside of the hospital or nursing home. The risk of contracting the disease--and the risk of being hospitalized because of it--increases significantly with age.

A three-year study of more than 46,000 seniors in the state of Washington confirmed previous data showing that peak rates of CAP tend to coincide with the flu season cycle, a potentially important correlation in recognizing future influenza outbreaks. "There's definitely a relationship between influenza and pneumonia," said lead author Michael L. Jackson, of Group Health Cooperative in Seattle. "People who get the flu are more likely to acquire pneumonia down the road." Because of the connection between the two diseases, elderly people should make doubly sure to get influenza vaccinations, he said. Quitting smoking is another good way to reduce the risk of getting pneumonia, Mr. Jackson added.

The researchers also concluded that men are more prone to pneumonia than women. Besides gender, other factors that put people at increased risk for CAP include smoking, heart and lung problems, diabetes, dementia and taking the medication prednisone. The researchers estimated that one in 20 people age 85 or older will have an episode of CAP each year.

Nearly 60 percent of the CAP cases studied were treated on an outpatient basis. "A lot of the work done on pneumonia looks at pneumonia that results in hospitalization," said. This study's inclusion of ambulatory or "walking" pneumonia patients makes the data gathered more valuable to researchers studying CAP.
Founded in 1979, Clinical Infectious Diseases publishes clinical articles twice monthly in a variety of areas of infectious disease, and is one of the most highly regarded journals in this specialty. It is published under the auspices of the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA). Based in Alexandria, Virginia, IDSA is a professional society representing more than 7,700 physicians and scientists who specialize in infectious diseases. For more information, visit

Infectious Diseases Society of America

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