An outbreak of invasive pneumococcal disease is making its way through the city’s downtown and Point Douglas areas, the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority Warned on Tuesday.
The threat of the disease is severe enough for the WRHA to begin organizing mass immunization clinics to protect those who are most vulnerable.
Winnipeg saw 98 cases of the disease in 2010, compared to an average of 55 annually in the previous three years.
The WRHA says the elderly, homeless and those with chronic illness are most at risk.
“This is a very serious, potentially fatal illness,” Dr. Carol Kurbis, a Medical Officer of Health with the WRHA, said. “It’s important we vaccinate as many members of the at-risk population as possible.”
Clinics in the area will be available throughout February and into March. Public Health Nurses will visit shelters, soup kitchens and select housing complexes in the area for those at high risk and provide the vaccine at no cost to anyone who wants it and fits the following criteria:
- Anyone who is homeless;
- Anyone with a chronic illness, such as a weakened immune system; kidney, heart or lung disease; diabetes;
- Anyone who suffers from an addiction (to illicit drugs or alcohol)
- Anyone 65 years or older; and
- Anyone living in a long term care facility.
A full list of conditions can be found on the province’s website (PDF).
Those who meet the criteria can also visit their family doctor of community health clinic to receive the vaccination.
What is the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine?
The pneumococcal vaccine prevents pneumococcal infections, which can cause serious and sometimes deadly illness, including infections in the lung (pneumonia), blood (bacteremia), and brain (meningitis). There are more than 90 different types of pneumococcal bacteria. The pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine protects against the 23 types that cause most of the severe pneumococcal infections. The vaccination is generally only given once in a lifetime, except to individuals at highest risk.