Pneumococcal disease: How it affected my life, how to prevent it from affecting yours

This is a sponsored post in partnership with the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.

When I was in fourth grade, I was the only one in my class who could spell pneumonia. I clearly recall my teacher standing at the front of the class, carefully writing out P N E U M O N I A on the chalkboard then asking the rapt students who knew what the word was. No one raised a hand… so I did.

I did indeed know the word because I was, in fact, the reason my teacher had written it on the board. He resourcefully used my return from an extended absence—due to pneumonia—as a lesson on a wacky word that not only began with a silent P, but boasted an abundance of vowels.

That wasn’t the first time I’d had pneumonia. I had suffered a serious bout at 18 months, though I naturally don’t recall that time. I do recall the three times I had pneumonia after that fourth grade incident, all in my early adult years, with the last being a particularly painful (and unforgettable) incident as the pneumonia was paired with pleurisy.

Thankfully I have not had pneumonia in several years—thanks to the pneumococcal vaccine. Because I have multiple sclerosis, getting pneumonia can be especially dangerous due to my compromised immune system. So my doctors ensure I get the pneumococcal vaccination on schedule. It’s been, perhaps literally, a lifesaver for me.

Pneumonia isn’t a concern just for those with compromised immune systems, though. According to the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID), about one million adults in the United States get pneumococcal pneumonia each year. As many as 400,000 hospitalizations from pneumococcal pneumonia occur annually in the U.S., and about 5 to 7 percent of those who are hospitalized from it will die. The death rate is even higher in those age 65 years and older.

My beautiful mom

My beautiful mom

Which is one reason November 12 of each year is designated as World Pneumonia Day, with the goal of educating folks on the importance of prevention of pneumonia through vaccination.

I partnered with NFID to promote World Pneumonia Day by way of this sponsored post about pneumococcal vaccines. It was originally scheduled to publish on November 12… which was last week. NFID granted me an extension at the last minute, though, as I was grieving the November 4 death of my mother—who had lung cancer but, coincidentally, officially died from “pneumonia community acquired,” per her death certificate.

Bottom line, pneumonia is seriously dangerous stuff.

Yet it can be prevented with a simple vaccination. A vaccination that can be given right along with the flu vaccine.

Staggering statistics on pneumococcal disease from NFID:

  • Pneumococcal disease is a leading cause of serious illness throughout the world. It is caused by a common type of bacteria, pneumococcus, which can attack different parts of the body. Illnesses caused by pneumococcus include pneumonia, meningitis, middle ear and sinus infections, and a condition called sepsis, an infection of the bloodstream.

  • In addition to the stats on U.S. adults mentioned above, pneumonia is a global concern as it’s the world’s leading infectious killer of children under the age of 5.

  • The symptoms of pneumococcal disease vary depending on the illness caused by the bacteria. In adults, symptoms of pneumonia include sudden onset of illness characterized by shaking chills, fever, shortness of breath or rapid breathing, chest pain that is worsened by breathing deeply and a productive cough.

Because a simple shot can prevent such suffering and serious consequences, consider consulting your healthcare professional about pneumococcal vaccines, especially if you’re over the age of 65. Talk to your loved ones about the vaccine, too, especially those who are over the age of 65 or have conditions that compromise their health.

Because as I said—and learned the hard way—pneumonia is seriously dangerous stuff.

Find out more about pneumococcal disease at And for more information on vaccines across the lifespan,“like” NFID on Facebook, follow NFID on Twitter @NFIDvaccines, and follow NFID on Instagram at @nfid_vaccines.

Disclaimer: I was compensated by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases through an unrestricted educational grant from Merck & Co., Inc. to write about pneumococcal disease but all opinions and anecdotes are my own.