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Elderly Woman's Spleen
December 2000

Q. My mother is in her 80th year and had her spleen removed at age 57. As a child she had pneumonia once or twice and last Christmas was seriously ill with a chest infection. Her last pneumovax shot was 5 years ago. The surgeon who removed the spleen had told her to have a shot every 5 years. This surgeon is now retired. Her family doctor of 3 years feels she does not need one. Why would the surgeon recommend every 5 years and the family doctor now says 10 years. Is there any consensus on this? Also, what about flu shots?

A. The spleen, located in the left upper part of the abdomen, is part of the immune system. It may need to be removed during various surgical procedures, or for trauma to the spleen itself which can result in serious and even fatal bleeding. Remarkably, persons who lose their spleen for any reason manage quite well. The one common risk resulting from spleen removal is a susceptibility to bacterial pneumonia.

Fortunately we now have an effective vaccine for prevention. It is recommended to be given to anyone over 65, persons with any serious chronic health condition, especially respiratory problems such as asthma or emphysema, and those people lacking a spleen. The general recommendation is that a single shot be given, but in cases where pneumonia risk is high, a second shot may be given if recommended by your doctor. Influenza vaccine is recommended for all persons over 65, or those with chronic health conditions as well.

HELPFUL WEBSITES:

http://www.mayohealth.org/mayo/9311/htm/coldflu.htm

http://www.lungusa.org/diseases/lungpneumoni.html

http://www.nih.gov/nia/health/agepages/pneum.htm

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