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A £30 vaccination could save a welder’s life, say University of Southampton scientists

Published: 5 July 2012
Professor Keith Palmer
Welders should have vaccination to protect against lung disease

Welders and other workers exposed to metal fumes should receive a simple vaccination that can prevent serious lung disease and even save their lives. A new review of the evidence, by scientists at the University of Southampton and published today (5th July) in the scientific journal Occupational Medicine, found that welders die more often from certain types of pneumonia and that they should be offered the PPV23 vaccination so that potentially fatal lung disease can be prevented.

“Many employers are unaware that exposure to welding fume can cause pneumonia. Although fatal cases are rare, they can occur. Companies need to ensure that anyone who undertakes welding work or is exposed to metal fumes is offered the vaccination. They also need to advise workers how to reduce their exposure to the fumes as much as possible and encourage them not to smoke,” said Keith Palmer, Professor of Occupational Medicine at the MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit, University of Southampton and the lead author of the review.

The review cited evidence that welders were up to six times more likely to suffer from Pneumococcal pneumonia – a disease that usually affects those who are very young, the elderly and those with impaired immunity. For this reason, many welders and the healthcare professionals who care for them may be unaware that they are more at risk and need the vaccination.

The paper confirms the recent advice from the Department of Health that welders should be given the vaccination. This new guidance is not yet widely recognised and the Society of Occupational Medicine believes it needs to be communicated to healthcare professionals, welders themselves, and their employers.

Dr Richard Heron, President of the Society of Occupational Medicine said, “This is an important message - a £30 jab may save a life. There are probably between 50,000 and 70,000 welders in the UK who stand to gain. The review explains that the benefit of providing vaccinations is likely to be comparable to that of taking aspirin for a year to prevent a heart attack or cardiac death. At the same time, we should always remember that prevention is better than cure - vaccination is not a substitute for good control of workplace exposure."

The review highlighted the importance of ensuring that those exposed to these harmful fumes are given appropriate protective equipment and follow other safety advice to minimise exposure.

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