Deaths from pneumonia have been on the rise as the graying of Japan’s population progresses. Utmost care is necessary to prevent old people from succumbing to pneumonia. In 2011, some 125,000 people died of pneumonia. Of these, 97 percent were 65 or older. Pneumonia may be described as the biggest enemy of senior citizens. One of every 10 Japanese eventually dies of pneumonia.

Aged people are likely to become victims of pneumonia because their immunity has weakened and often their nutrition is not good. Many older patients being treated for heart disease and cancer end up dying of pneumonia.

Symptoms of pneumonia are similar to those of an ordinary cold. It must not be forgotten that what looks like cold symptoms among older people may be symptomatic of pneumonia. The symptoms include fever, chest pains and breathing difficulty.

People tend to think of pneumonia as a winter disease. But the number of cases of summer pneumonia is about 70 to 80 percent of the number in winter.

The important point is that many cases of pneumonia are preventable. Various pathogens are responsible for causing pneumonia and some have become resistant to antibiotics.

About 30 percent of pneumonia cases are caused by the pneumococcus pathogen, against which vaccination is still effective. It is said that a single vaccination usually prevents pneumonia caused by pneumococcus for about five years.

One such vaccination costs ¥6,000 to ¥8,000. About 800 municipalities, or nearly half of Japan’s municipalities, provide subsidies to people who receive pneumococcus vaccinations.

The vaccination rate among people aged 65 or older increased from 4 percent in 2007 to 18 percent at present. The rate is low in western Japan and in the Sea of Japan coastal areas. The government should consider ways to have aged people receive the vaccination regularly throughout the country.

In Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures, which were hit by the 3/11 disasters, pneumococcus vaccinations have been provided free of charge, increasing the vaccination rate among senior citizens to a level of 44 to 59 percent. Widespread vaccinations will contribute greatly to reducing the nation’s medical costs.

It would be useful to follow tips given by professor Kozui Kida, head of Nippon Medical School’s Respiratory Care Clinic, for prevention of pneumonia. They include: getting enough sleep, balanced nutrition, a proper amount of physical exercise, no smoking, preventing the inhalation of food or drinks when swallowing, keeping the mouth clean, careful treatment of any chronic diseases one may have, and getting periodic vaccinations.

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