CDC Sees Spike in Severe Pneumococcal Disease

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media , November 30, 2009

Federal health officials last week issued caution about "a worrisome spike" in serious pneumococcal disease, as seen in surveillance centers such as in Denver, where in October levels nearly tripled those normally seen for that month.

"The findings in Denver probably reflect findings that are occurring in other parts of the country where the surveillance hasn't been as intensive," said Anne Schuchat, MD, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

Pneumococcus is a type of bacteria that takes hold in the lung after influenza viral infections reduce the lining of the respiratory tract. The infections can invade the bloodstream, where they can be especially difficult to kill.

"We were sort of looking for this last spring, and didn't see a problem," Schuchat said at a media briefing Wednesday.

Schuchat said that in Denver, most of the severe pneumococcal illnesses have been in younger people, under age 60.

She urged that people protect themselves with the pneumococcal vaccine. "We strongly recommend that adults with chronic conditions like diabetes, emphysema, chronic heart, lung, liver disease take advantage of the pneumococcal vaccine," she said. Only 25% of adults at high risk under the age of 65 have been vaccinated.

Officials said the CDC would have another update on the uptick in severe pneumococcal disease Monday.

Cheryl Clark is senior quality editor and California correspondent for HealthLeaders Media. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists.

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