Dr Atul Luhadia
The most common way to immunise a person against an infection is through a vaccine. Vaccination works by giving a person a substance that contains very small parts of or a weakened form of an infectious agent like a virus or bacterium. This is usually delivered through an injection.
The virus or bacterium stimulates the body’s immune system to produce antibodies. These antibodies are then able to recognise and effectively destroy the infection when they are next exposed to it. This helpsto protect a person from developing the infectious disease if they come into contact with it in the future.
Persons witha lung condition are at more risk of developing airway infections and it is important to protectas much as possible by receiving the recommended vaccinations.
What are the main vaccinations recommended to protect against lung infections?
The flu vaccination is very important for people who are at risk of developing a serious infection. Having a lung disease increases the risk of serious infection, complications and hospitalisation from flu.
There are many different strains of flu. Each year, the World Health Organization (WHO) assesses which strains of flu are likely to be circulating during the following winter. They are then able to advise which strains of flu the vaccines should target that year. These vaccines are then used across the globe to protect those people most at risk.
The flu vaccination is usually delivered at the start of each winter so the vaccines will target the strains of flu that are circulating that year and also because immunity to flu weakens over time, so it’s important to give your immune system a boost each year.
The pneumococcal vaccine protects against the most common bacterial cause of pneumonia. Pneumonia is an infection of the lung which usually has a sudden onset and causes symptoms such as fever, cough and difficulty in breathing. Once the severe febrile illness is over, full recovery can take several weeks. Sometimes, especially in people with lung or other long-term conditions, pneumonia can be fatal.
Anyone can be affected by this type of pneumonia but infants under the age of 2 years, adults aged over 65 years and people with lung diseases are at more risk. Two types of pneumococcal (PCV 13 and PPSV 23) vaccines are available for use currently.
Why are vaccines important for people with lung diseases?
These vaccines are the best preventive measures available for protection against infections such as flu, pneumonia.
People with cystic fibrosis are at a high risk of developing a lung infection, which can lead to worsening of their symptoms. However, if a person with cystic fibrosis contracts a serious infection, such as flu or pneumonia, they are at risk of severe complications, which could lead to hospitalisationand / or taking a long course of drugs to treat the infection, or death.
It is therefore important that they keep up to date with all their required vaccination. For example, people with cystic fibrosis should receive the flu vaccine each year and both types of the pneumococcal vaccines as per the recommended guidelines.
Asthma can be triggered by catching a viral or bacterial infection. If a person has severe asthma, they are at risk of serious complications, such as a severe asthma attack leading to hospitalisation and occasionally death.
People with severe asthma are able to receive the flu vaccine each year in most countries in Europe. This will help to protect people against the worst strains of flu and its symptoms that they could potentially develop that year.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or other chronic lung diseases
Infections, such as flu or pneumonia, can easily develop in older people with chronic lung conditions, as their lungs are already weakened. This can lead to a worsening of symptoms and / or hospitalisation. Most common cause of COPD exacerbations are lower respiratory tract infections and both influenza and pneumococcal vaccines reduce the incidence of lower respiratory tract infections. So it is recommended that all patients with COPD should receive pneumococcal and the annual influenza vaccines.
Dr Atul Luhadia, M.D. (Pulmonary Medicine)
Department of Respiratory Medicine
Geetanjali Medical College and Hospital
Udaipur , Rajasthan