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Employees with Work-Related Asthma at High Risk of Pneumococcal Pneumonia

Just over half of adults with work-related asthma report having received a pneumococcal pneumonia vaccine.

Adults with asthma are at increased risk for pneumococcal disease, yet according to a new study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, just 54 percent of adults with work-related asthma – asthma triggered by an exposure at work – have been vaccinated against the infection. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends all adults with asthma who are ages 19 through 64 get the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine.

Researchers from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) found that adults with work-related asthma were more likely to have reported receiving a pneumococcal vaccine than adults with non-work-related asthma – 54 percent compared with 35 percent, respectively. Among adults with work-related asthma, pneumococcal vaccine coverage was lowest among Hispanics (36 percent), those without health insurance (39 percent) and adults ages 18 to 44 years (42 percent).

“People with work-related asthma are particularly vulnerable to pneumococcal pneumonia,” said NIOSH Director John Howard, M.D. “Vaccination is the best way to prevent pneumococcal disease, including pneumonia, and CDC recommends that all adults with asthma, whether work-related or not, get the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine.”

The study analyzed data from the 2012-2013 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), a state-based telephone survey, which includes an optional follow-up survey that collects detailed information on asthma. Nearly 10,000 adults ages 18–64 years with asthma who had ever held a job were included in the analysis. They were from 29 states and represent an estimated 12 million people. Of the adults with asthma in the study, researchers estimated 15 percent had work-related asthma.

Pneumococcal Pneumonia Common, Deadly

CDC estimates that about 900,000 Americans get pneumococcal pneumonia each year and about 5 to 7 percent die from it. Adults with asthma who get pneumococcal pneumonia are at risk for additional complications, including asthma exacerbation and invasive pneumococcal disease. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends a pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccination for all adults ages 19 through 64 with asthma.

“Our study found that the vaccination coverage for pneumococcal disease among adults who have ever worked and have asthma falls short of achieving the coverage public health experts recommend,” said Katelynn Dodd, M.P.H., lead author and an epidemiologist in the Respiratory Health Division, NIOSH. “To increase the number of adults with asthma who are vaccinated against pneumococcal disease, we recommend that healthcare providers verify if their patients who have asthma have received a pneumococcal vaccine and offer the vaccine to those not vaccinated.”

Pneumococcal disease is an infection caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae, which can cause many types of illnesses including ear infections, meningitis and pneumonia. For more information on pneumococcal disease including risk factors, symptoms, prevention and information about vaccines, visit the CDC website. To learn more about work-related asthma, including its triggers and causes and how to prevent it, visit the NIOSH website.

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