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Health Team

Smokers can be vaccinated against one disease they risk

Posted November 6, 2008 4:40 p.m. EST
Updated November 6, 2008 9:18 p.m. EST

— Cigarette smokers can get vaccinated for at least one potentially fatal disease for which their habit puts them at risk, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that they do so immediately.

In the United States, one out of 20 people who develop pneumococcal pneumonia die from it.

"The pneumococcus is the most common bacteria to cause pneumonia, sinusitis and bronchitis," said Dr. David Weber, a infectious disease expert with University of North Carolina.

The pneumococcal vaccine has been recommended for a long list of high-risk groups – including people over age 65; those with diabetes, chronic or congestive heart failure, liver failure and pulmonary disease; and immuno-compromised patients, such as those with HIV or on chemotherapy.

The CDC recently added cigarette smokers to the list of at-risk groups.

"We've known for decades that cigarette smokers are more likely to get both bronchitis and pneumonia because of the effects cigarette smoking has on the cilia in the lung that fight infection," Weber said.

Since smokers are less able to fight off infection, they are at higher risk of dying from pneumonia and in more need of the vaccine to protect them.

The vaccine is available at most doctors offices and local health departments. Insurance providers covers the cost for the at-risk groups.

But doctors urge that the best thing smokers can do for their health is to quit. That immediately – and dramatically – cuts their risk of lung cancer, cardiovascular disease and chronic lung diseases. And it can add years to a person's life.