Texas aims to prevent spread of bacteria causing pneumonia, meningitis

State & Regional

AUSTIN — The Texas Department of State Health Services is currently collecting written comments for a state plan targeted on preventing a bacteria commonly known to cause pneumococcal pneumonia and meningitis. 

House Bill 970, passed during the 85th Legislature, directs the agency to develop a state plan for prevention and treatment of diseases caused by Streptococcus Pneumoniae, as well as strategies for demographic groups that are disproportionately affected. While anyone can get a disease from this bacteria, it’s commonly known to be higher risk among children under two years of age and seniors. Symptoms of pneumococcal pneumonia include fever, cough, shortness of breath and chills. People with pneumococcal meningitis often have high fever, nausea, stiff neck and headache.

“People can die from this illness,” Mary Pat Smith said. 

Smith, who is a member of the Texas Silver-Haired Legislature, says these diseases are a public health concern. The Texas Silver-Haired Legislature was a driving force behind getting this legislation passed. 

“One of our members was very seriously affected by this Streptococcus Pneumoniae that caused pneumococcal pneumonia and she was in the hospital for a while,” Smith said. 

Dr. Eric Higginbotham, medical director and division chief of the emergency department at Dell Children’s Medical Center, says the most common cases the hospital sees are pneumonia. 

“So that’s easily treated – that’s antibiotics, usually for about a 10-day course or a 14-day course and then medicine to control the fever, so acetaminophen or ibuprofen,” he said. 

Higginbotham says a key step to prevention is vaccinations. 

“We see a lot less than we did 20 years ago, 30 years ago, because there are now routine vaccinations against pneumococcus,” he said. 

Paul Stempko, who is also with the Texas Silver-Haired Legislature, hopes there will be a public education program about the bacteria and the diseases it can cause. 

“Chances are you’re either affected by this, by family or friends,” he said. 

Smith says from her experience as a nurse and from her work with people residing in long-term care facilities, there are several other ways to prevent the spread of the bacteria. 

“Cough into your elbow if you have a cough,” she said. “Put the germs there, not on your hand. And handwashing, wash your hands often.” 

The public comment period is open until the end of August.  

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