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Friday, 10 March, 2000, 11:58 GMT
Smokers 'need' pneumonia bug jab
Smokers susceptible to illness
Smokers are four times as likely to fall ill to the bacterium which causes pneumonia, meningitis and other illnesses as non-smokers, researchers say.

People who smoke should therefore be vaccinated against the potentially killer bug, they add.

The research also says passive smokers are at increased risk of falling ill to the bacterium Streptococcus pneumoniae - they are two-and-a-half times as susceptible as people not exposed to cigarette smoke.

Streptococcus pneumoniae causes a range of illnesses known as invasive pneumococcal disease, including blood poisoning, pneumonia and ear infections, as well as meningitis.

The bacterium is carried by many health people but develops into potentially fatal illness in only a small minority of cases.

Vaccine question

It causes 500,000 Americans to go to hospital each year and is a leading killer of children.

An adult vaccine against the bacteria is available but is usually only recommended for the elderly and people with other health problems which make them vulnerable.

But Dr Pekka Nuorti of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, who led the research published in the New England Journal of Medicine, said the results raised the question of whether healthy adults - particularly smokers - should receive the vaccine.

"It may be reasonable to incorporate the pneumococcal vaccine into smoking-cessation programmes as well as to consider vaccinating those who continue to smoke," Dr Nuorti said.

The research team also estimate that cutting the smoking rate in the US from the current 25% to 15% would prevent 4,000 pneumococcal cases each year.

'Softens lungs'

Their study of 228 patients found that the risk also increased with the number of cigarettes a person smoked. The smoking rate among people with pneumococcal disease was 58%.

Commenting on the research in the journal, Dr John Sheffield and Dr Richard Root of Harbourview Medical Centre in Seattle said vaccinating all smokers and people at high risk "may be reasonable".

They said passive smokers should be informed of the risk and said the report "reinforced the importance of efforts to limit smoking in public places".

Professor Stephen Gillespie, of the department of medical microbiology, at University College London Medical School, told BBC News Online: "This shows that smoke softens up the lungs for invasion."

He added: "That is exactly what I would expect from seeing patients and from the pathogenesis of the disease."

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