Several employees at shipyard in Turku fallen ill with serious Pneumococcal infection
In late summer and early fall of 2019, the Turku University Hospital has treated about twenty patients of working age who had contracted pneumonia caused by the Pneumococcus bacterium. The ones who have fallen ill have worked in a Turku shipyard with the finishing stages of shipbuilding.
The group of patients includes people of different professions and nationalities and employees of different companies. Common to all of them has been that they have worked for long periods in a ship under the final stages of construction.
The situation is being investigated jointly by the Hospital District of Southwest Finland, the city of Turku, occupational health care, the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health and the National Institute for Health and Welfare.
A vaccination program is being launched
A vaccination program is being launched and measures to improve hand hygiene will be taken. Pneumococcal infections at the site may be prevented through vaccination and careful hygiene.
- Vaccination against the Pneumococcus will primarily be offered to fulltime employees who work in the final stages of shipbuilding. Vaccinations will begin this week.
- Measures to reduce the risk of droplet spread have been taken.
- Focus will be put on proper breathing protection and influenza vaccination.
Why is the Pneumococcus dangerous and how does it spread?
- The Pneumococcus is a common bacterium. It causes upper airway infections, like infections of the sinuses and middle ear.
- It may also cause serious illnesses like meningitis, pneumonia and septicemia (blood poisoning). These illnesses require hospital treatment.
- The pneumococcus spreads through droplet transmission when people cough and sneeze. It may also spread by direct contact between people.
- It is unusual for the Pneumococcus to cause epidemics. There have been clusters of Pneumococcal illnesses among shipyard workers in Norway and Northern Ireland. It is assumed that the general conditions, smoking and the high number of people working together in the finishing stages of shipbuilding increase the risk of infection.
- Many healthy people carry the Pneumococcus in their throat and may unknowingly spread the bacterium without themselves being ill.
There are 600-700 laboratory-verified cases of severe Pneumococcal infections in Finland annually. Most of the patients are elderly or have some condition that predisposes to these infections. The risk of illness increases also by smoking and respiratory infections, like influenza.
There are annually 60-70 cases of serious Pneumococcal illness within the Hospital District of Southwest Finland. Thus far, 62 cases have been recorded this year in the register for contagious diseases.
The national vaccination program provides children with vaccination against the Pneumococcus and this has effectively decreased the number of Pneumococcal diseases in Finland.
THL's questions and answers about pneumococcus.