CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — News of the recent flu vaccine shortage has directed much attention to the dangers of influenza; however, Tennesseans should also be aware of and protect themselves against another of winter’s most deadly assailants—pneumonia.

Pneumonia, a common complication of the flu, can lead to serious illness and death. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) up to 500,000 cases of pneumococcal pneumonia occur each year, resulting in approximately 175,000 hospitalizations and 40,000 deaths in the United States.

In Tennessee, State Department of Health mortality data indicate a total of 1,689 pneumonia deaths during 2002.

“In light of this year’s flu shot shortage, Tennesseans, especially those at high-risk, should get the pneumococcal vaccine,” said Dr. Steve Coulter, senior vice president and chief medical officer for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee. “Although it’s not a replacement for a flu shot, a pneumonia shot can help lessen the complications that come from influenza.”

Pneumococcal pneumonia is a bacterial infection that results in inflammation of the lungs. It most often affects persons with weakened immune systems, such as those suffering from the flu or other chronic illnesses. Several groups fall into a high-risk category for pneumonia:

· Anyone age 65 or older

· Anyone over 2 years of age who has a long-term health problem (heart disease, lung disease, diabetes, cirrhosis, etc.)

· Anyone over 2 years of age who has a condition that lowers the body’s resistance to infection (Hodgkin’s disease, HIV/AIDS, lymphoma, leukemia, etc.)

· Anyone over 2 years of age who is taking any drug or treatment that lowers the body’s resistance to infection (long-term steroids, radiation, certain cancer drugs)

· Post-operative patients

· Anyone living in a nursing home or chronic care facility

· Alaskan natives and certain Native American populations

The CDC reports that the pneumococcal vaccine is up to 70 percent effective in preventing infections in adults and children at least 2 years old, and unlike an annual flu shot, the pneumococcal vaccine is not required annually.

“Immunizations are the best way Tennesseans can protect themselves from this and other deadly diseases,” Coulter said. “People should consult their doctor to determine if a pneumonia vaccination is needed. If you’ve never had a pneumonia shot and you’re a high-risk individual, you should ask now.”

For more information on pneumonia, visit the Tennessee Department of Health at www.state.tn.us/health/ and type pneumonia into the search field.

About BlueCross

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee's mission is to provide its customers and communities with peace of mind through affordable solutions for health and healing, life and living. Founded in 1945, the Chattanooga-based company is focused on reinventing the health plan for its 3 million members in Tennessee and across the country. Through its integrated health management approach, BlueCross provides patient-centric products and services that drive health improvement and positively impact health care quality and value. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Inc. is an independent licensee of the BlueCross BlueShield Association. For more information, visit the company's website at www.bcbst.com.