Press Releases

February 2, 2011

Increase in invasive pneumococcal disease in Winnipeg

Winnipeg Health Region launches targeted immunization program

Winnipeg is experiencing an increase in invasive pneumococcal disease resulting in serious infection, primarily in the Downtown and Point Douglas areas of Winnipeg, prompting the Health Region to launch an immunization program aimed at protecting those most at risk: the elderly, people who are homeless, or those with chronic illness.

Last year saw a total of 98 cases in Winnipeg compared to an average of 55 annually in the previous three years.

"This is a very serious, potentially fatal illness," Dr. Carol Kurbis, a Medical Officer of Health with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, said. "It's important we vaccinate as many members of the at-risk population as possible."

The Region is organizing clinics throughout the area during February and into March, Dr. Kurbis said. 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," Dr. 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 the 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.

Children under two years of age are also at high risk for becoming sick. However, they need a different kind of pneumococcal vaccine, called the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine, which is part of the routine childhood immunization schedule in Manitoba.

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 HealthLinks - Info Santé at 788-8200.

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