10-second lifesaver

Outsmart drug-resistant pneumonia

Flu shots are only half of the story of how to have a healthy winter. A different shot may actually be the one that saves your life. It's the pneumonia vaccine, and it may prevent 60 to 70 percent of the 40,000 deaths from pneumonia each year.

If you haven't heard of this vaccine yet, you're not the only one. Studies show that only one in five of the people who need it most have ever received it. It's probably the best-kept health secret in the country, say the experts, despite their efforts to get the word out.

So here are the facts:

The vaccine offers protection from 23 of the most common strains of pneumococcal pneumonia. (That's a bacterial pneumonia. There's viral pneumonia, too, but bacterial is the most common--and the most serious.) And that includes the penicillin-resistant ones.

Everyone over age 65 should get the shot. If you're under 65, you need the vaccine's help if you have lung, heart or kidney diseases or if you have diabetes. (Researchers are still pondering the link with the last disease. All they know now is that "people with diabetes are overrepresented" among people with pneumonia.)
You have to get the shot only every six years.

You should be able to get the shot from your family doctor.

Physicians can't stress enough how important the vaccine is. Even if it can't prevent all the cases, says pneumonia researcher Joseph F. Plouffe, M.D., professor of internal medicine at Ohio State University, "pneumococcal pneumonia is the most common pneumonia we see. And if we can prevent 60 percent of these cases, we will have prevented a huge numberof deaths."

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By Marty Munson with Teresa A. Yeykal

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