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Region launches targeted pneumococcal disease immunization program

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Questions and Answers about Invasive Pneumococcal Disease

Winnipeg Health Region
Published Tuessday, February 1, 2011

The Winnipeg Health Region is moving to immunize people living in the downtown and Point Douglas areas of the city following concerns about increased cases of invasive pneumococcal disease.

Pneumococcal infections can cause serious illness, including infections in the lung (pneumonia), blood (bacteremia), and brain (meningitis).

"This is a very serious, potentially fatal illness," said Dr. Carol Kurbis, Medical Officer of Health with the Region. "Most people are not at increased risk, but if you fit within the risk conditions it is important to talk to a care provider about getting immunized."

There have been nine reported cases so far in Winnipeg this year. In 2010, 98 cases of invasive pneumococcal disease were reported compared to an average of 55 reported annually in the previous three years.

In 2010, the Health Region noted a particular increase in the younger population between 30 - 64 years of age, who had risk factors and were living in the inner city of Winnipeg.

Clinics are being organized throughout the area during February and into March. Public health nurses will visit shelters, soup kitchens and select housing complexes in the area for those at high risk and provide the vaccine at no cost to anyone who wants it and fits the following criteria:

  • Anyone who is homeless;
  • Anyone with a chronic illness, such as a weakened immune system; kidney, heart or lung disease; diabetes;
  • Anyone who suffers from an addiction (to illicit drugs or alcohol)
  • Anyone 65 years or older; and
  • Anyone living in a long term care facility.

Click here for a full list of conditions

Those who meet the criteria can also visit their family doctor or their community health clinic to get vaccinated.

"The good news is that this is a one-time shot," Kurbis said. "Most individuals will never need to get it again and it will reduce the risk of getting a serious pneumococcal infection throughout their lives." She said public health nurses will also be offering the influenza vaccine at the February / March clinics if individuals haven't already received it.

There are more than 90 different types of pneumococcal bacteria. The pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine protects against the 23 types that cause most of the severe pneumococcal infections.

Pneumococcal infection is caused by bacteria that can spread easily from one person to another by coughing, sneezing, or by sharing food or drinks. Most people who carry the bacteria do not get sick, but they can still spread it to other people. These infections can result in hospitalization and even cause death, especially in children and adults with high-risk medical conditions and the elderly. These people are more at risk (because of their age and/or their existing medical problems) to develop serious complications if they become sick with pneumococcal disease. 

Officials say there were nine deaths reported during 2010 in which IPD could have been a contributing factor, but it can't be confirmed whether it was the primary cause of death.

Kurbis noted that in addition to the vaccine one of the best ways to protect oneself against this illness and others is through good personal hygiene. "Regular hand-washing and covering your coughs are important practices that go a really long way in preventing the spread of disease," she said.

For more information on the location of your community clinic call Health Links - Info Santé at 788-8200.

Questions and Answers about Invasive Pneumococcal Disease

What is the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine?

The pneumococcal vaccine prevents pneumococcal infections, which can cause serious and sometimes deadly illness, including infections in the lung (pneumonia), blood (bacteremia), and brain (meningitis). There are more than 90 different types of pneumococcal bacteria. The pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine protects against the 23 types that cause most of the severe pneumococcal infections. The vaccination is generally only given once in a lifetime, except to individuals at highest risk.

Who should be immunized with pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine this year?

Individuals at higher risk for getting this infection are:

  • Age 65 or older; or
  • Live in a long term care facility; or
  • Homeless; or
  • Have a chronic illness, such as a weakened immune system; kidney, heart, liver or lung disease; diabetes; or addictions.

This year, an increase of invasive pneumococcal disease (IPD) has been noticed particularly in the Point Douglas and Downtown communities of Winnipeg. While rates of IPD are not as high in other city areas, anyone within Winnipeg who fits one or more of the criteria above should discuss whether or not they should get the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine with their family physician.

It is impossible to predict how invasive pneumococcal disease will impact Manitobans in any given year and so it is very important for everyone who fits within the risk categories for these infections to consider getting immunized.

Can pregnant women receive the vaccine?

Yes. The vaccine is safe for pregnant women.

Who should NOT receive the vaccine?

  • Children under two years of age. While they are at higher risk of becoming sick, they need a different kind of pneumococcal vaccine called the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine. This is part of the routine childhood immunization schedule in Manitoba.
  • Individuals with an infection or high fever (vaccination should be delayed until feeling better).
  • Individuals who are allergic to any part of the vaccine
  • People who have had a serious reaction to vaccines before should speak to their immunization provider before receiving the vaccine.

Where and when can I get an "IPD shot" this year?

The vaccine is always available through your family physician or local health clinic. In addition it will be available at no cost to those who fit the criteria at the following locations:

  • WRHA Community Area Offices
  • IPD Outreach vaccine clinics - for the most at-risk populations (the vulnerable inner-city)
  • Patients and residents in WRHA acute and long term care facilities

Where can I find more information on IPD?

Pneumococcal Polysaccharide Vaccine Fact Sheet

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