Survey: Europeans underestimate pneumonia risk

Gary Finnegan

Gary Finnegan

May 2nd, 2016

Gary Finnegan
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‘A new survey reveals major misconceptions about pneumonia, with most adults not vaccinated against the disease and many unaware that it can be vaccine-preventable.

A new survey reveals major misconceptions about pneumonia, with most adults not vaccinated against the disease and many unaware that it can be vaccine-preventable.

In Europe there are an estimated 3 million cases of pneumonia each year, of which an estimated one million are hospitalised. The disease causes 120,000 deaths per year in Europe but only 3 out of 10 older adults are aware that it is possible to be vaccinated against this disease.

Tobias Welte“The findings contain some real surprises,” says Prof Tobias Welte, Professor of Pulmonary Medicine and Head of the Department of Pulmonary and Infectious Diseases at Hannover University School of Medicine. “The population views community-acquired pneumonia as a really severe disease but do not think that they are personally at risk. This is a misconception because it can affect anyone at any time.”

This misconception results in low rates of vaccination. Almost three times as many survey respondents reported being regularly vaccinated against flu. Profess Welt told Vaccines Today that flu vaccination is also too low in most European countries but the situation with pneumonia is even more concerning.

“Flu is seen as a very precise disease and the risk is clear. Pneumonia is caused by lots of pathogens and the outcomes vary widely so it’s harder to pitch the message to the public.”

Doctors’ orders

For those who were vaccinated, the decision to have a pneumonia vaccine was prompted by a family doctor or specialist in 75% of cases, which highlights the important role of healthcare professionals in protecting people at risk.

The survey found that most people say they trust vaccines (85%) and take their doctors’ advice (92%) so is the low pneumonia vaccination rate the result of doctors’ failure communicate with patients about prevention?

“In general, patient-physician contact time is very low and there is not enough time to discuss prevention,” Prof Welte says. “The conversation usually focuses on diagnosing and treating illness so preventative measures – vaccination, smoking cessation, exercise – are lower on the list of priorities.”


Professor Welte says greater emphasis on infection control should be given in medical schools and that raising public awareness of pneumonia and its prevention can help to encourage patients to open that conversation.

He said the broader impact of pneumonia should be also highlighted. “The disease does not only affect your acute health but, in cases where patients recover, it has long-term consequences for the deterioration of chronic illnesses. Even 10 years after an episode of pneumonia your general healthcare status is likely to be worse than other people of the same age.”

Of those surveyed who had suffered a pneumonia infection, the greatest reported impact was on the patient’s ability to get out and about; impact on their social life; and negative financial consequences.

A new view into pneumonia

Healthy ageing advocates are urging older people to discuss preventative health with their doctors more regularly.

“Despite the protection that vaccination offers, unacceptable numbers of human beings continue to die or suffer from this preventable disease,” said Dr Jane Barratt, Secretary General of the International Federation on Ageing.

“Pneumonia can affect anyone, even those who lead a healthy lifestyle. Effective communication between doctors and patients is needed to ensure those aged 65 and over or those suffering from a chronic condition get the protection they need.”

Polling company Ipsos MORI surveyed over, 9,000 adults aged 50 and over in nine EU countries as part of the PneuVUE study. The survey, conducted on behalf of Pfizer, is the largest of its kind and was conducted by November 2015 and February 2016.

It is based on approximately 1,000 interviews in each of the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Greece, Austria and Czech Republic) via 20-minute computer assisted telephone interviews.

Via the full survey report

What is pneumonia?

Pneumonia is a serious infection of one or both lungs caused by bacteria, viruses or fungi and it can affect anyone, including those who exercise, eat healthily and generally take care of themselves.

There are many forms of pneumonia, some of which are commonly spread from person to person causing infection. Bacteria carried in the nose and throat is a common cause of community-acquired pneumonia, with the majority of cases resulting from the bacterium Streptococcus pneumoniae

In Europe, one of the most frequent causes of death due to infection is community-acquired pneumonia. There are three million cases of pneumonia every year, of which an estimated one million are hospitalised. Annual costs for community acquired pneumonia are estimated to exceed €10 billion annually.

The risk of pneumonia increases as you get older, if you live with a chronic condition, have a weakened immune system, or if you smoke. People who may be at risk of catching pneumonia should talk to their healthcare professional about prevention through vaccination.