Experts warn: If flu doesn’t get you, this might

AT-RISK Aussies are being urged to become vaccinated against pneumonia at the same time as getting their flu vaccine, with a leading infectious disease expert warning the dangerous conditions hunt together.

National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance head of clinical research, Professor Robert Booy, said the co-occurrence of pneumonia and influenza was behind thousands of deaths in Australia every year.

"The pneumococcus could be described as a sleeping dragon and a ferocious one at that because once it is woken up and causes pneumonia it can be very severe," Prof Booy said.

"Those hospitalised for pneumonia are at real risk of death and especially if over 65."

In an article published the Medical Journal of Australia Insight yesterday Prof Booy revealed one-in-10 Australians over 65 who were hospitalised with pneumonia would die from the killer lung infection.

Jodie Guerrero poses for a photograph with her kids Julia and Anna in a park in Dakabin. Picture:AAP image, John Gass
Jodie Guerrero poses for a photograph with her kids Julia and Anna in a park in Dakabin. Picture:AAP image, John Gass

The elderly and those with chronic illness are at highest risk, but pneumonia puts 77,000 people of all ages in hospital each year and 4000 lose their lives.

A vaccine is available for pneumococcus and can be administered at same time as the flu vaccine.

Although older Australians are increasingly having an annual flu shot, only one-in-two are vaccinating against pneumococcal pneumonia.

GPs offer free pneumococcal vaccines to those at highest risk of the infection, including over 65s, infants, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, those with impaired immunity, chronic tobacco smokers and people with chronic medical illnesses, such as heart, lung, kidney and liver disease, and diabetes.

Estimates suggest more than 10 million Australians will have their annual flu shot in the coming months.

Lung Foundation Australia chief executive, Mark Brooke, encouraged anyone at risk to get the vaccine.

The infection is contracted by inhaling infected droplets from someone who has coughed or sneezed into the air.

Many people carry the pneumonia causing bacteria at the back of their throats.

Jodie Guerrero from Dakabin is 47 and has had two serious bouts of pneumonia.

The cancer survivor and mother-of-two was immunosuppressed.

"I get the vaccine now … make an appointment otherwise you are putting yourself, your family and the wider community at risk," she said.