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Disease

Pneumococcal Disease

Page last updated on 04 April 2022

Pneumococcal disease is one of the leading causes of serious illness and death among Australian children under two years of age and in adults over 85 of age.

Older Australians are especially at risk of death from this disease. Indigenous communities, in particular those from central Australia, are at an increased risk of the disease. It is estimated that the disease kills around one million people worldwide every year.

Pneumococcal disease is a range of illnesses that are due to infection with Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria. It can cause a number of different illnesses and affect various parts of the body, ranging from pneumonia (infection of the lungs) to meningitis (infection of the lining of the brain) and infections of the blood and bone.

There are at least 90 different strains of the bacteria. Many people carry the bacteria in their nose and throat, however, most of the time it doesn’t cause disease. In Australia, there are vaccinations available that help protect you against the most common of these strains. Vaccinations are free for children and adults over the age of 65 through the National Immunisation Program (NIP).

If you have not received the minimum recommended dosage of the pneumococcal vaccine, speak to your healthcare professional about catch up options.

Key disease information

How is pneumococcal disease spread?

Pneumococcal bacteria are carried in the nose and throat of healthy adults and children. It can be passed from one person to another through sneezing and coughing. Many people (including children) become carriers of the bacteria at some time or other, but not all will become sick.

What are the symptoms of pneumococcal disease?

The symptoms of pneumococcal disease depend on the part of the body that is infected.

Pneumonia:

  • Fever and chills
  • Cough
  • Rapid or difficult breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Confusion/low alertness (in older adults)

 

Meningitis:

  • Stiff neck
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Photophobia (eyes being more sensitive to light)
  • Confusion
  • Poor eating/drinking, low alertness and vomiting (in babies)

 

Bacteraemia:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Low alertness

 

Sepsis:

  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Shortness of breath
  • High heart rate
  • Fever, shivering or feeling very cold
  • Extreme pain or discomfort
  • Clammy or sweaty skin

 

Middle ear infection (otitis media):

  • Ear pain
  • Red, swollen ear drum
  • Fever
  • Sleepiness

 

Joints and bones (septic arthritis):

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Stiffness
     
How can pneumococcal disease be prevented?

Serious pneumococcal disease is most common in children under two years of age and older adults over the age of 85 years. 

Vaccines for pneumococcal disease are provided free as part of the National Immunisation Program (NIP) as follows:

  • Infants are vaccinated at two, four and twelve months of age
  • Adults are vaccinated again once they turn 70 years of age
  • Other people may also require additional vaccinations if they have a chronic disease or if they are an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander

Speak with your healthcare professional for further information regarding vaccination for pneumococcal disease.

While vaccination can protect you from becoming infected, to prevent pneumococcal disease spreading, remember to practice good hygiene:

  • Always cover your coughs and sneezes
  • Wash your hands often
Is pneumococcal disease the same as meningococcal disease?

Pneumococcal disease is not the same as meningococcal disease. While the sites of infection can be the same (such as infection of the lining of the brain – or meningitis), the terms ‘pneumococcal’ and ‘meningococcal’ describe different types of bacteria that infect the body.

Pneumococcal Pneumococcal disease is caused by the bacteria known as Streptococcus pneumoniae or pneumococcus, while meningococcal disease is caused by a bacteria called Neisseria meningitidis, or meningococcus. Both of these bacteria may be found living naturally in the nose and throat of some people without causing symptoms, while in others, the bacteria can become invasive and cause disease.

The vaccines for pneumococcal disease and meningococcal disease are different, and being vaccinated against one of these diseases does not provide protection against the other. For more information about meningococcal disease and its prevention, speak to your healthcare professional and visit our meningococcal disease page.

VaccineHub offers general information only. Please see a healthcare professional for medical advice

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Sources & Citations

  1. Australian Government Department of Health. Public datasets for the National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System. Invasive Pneumococcal Disease Surveillance Australia. Available at: https://www1.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/ohp-pub-datasets.htm (accessed 14 December 2021).
  2. Better Health Channel. Pneumococcal disease. Available at: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/pneumococcal-disease (accessed 14 December 2021).
  3. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. Pneumococcal disease. Symptoms and complications. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/pneumococcal/about/symptoms-complications.html (accessed 14 December 2021).
  4. Australian Government Department of Health. The Australian Immunisation Handbook -Pneumococcal disease. Available at: https://immunisationhandbook.health.gov.au/vaccine-preventable-diseases/pneumococcal-disease (accessed 14 December 2021).
  5. Australian Government Department of Health. National Immunisation Program Schedule. Available at: https://www.health.gov.au/health-topics/immunisation/immunisation-throughout-life/national-immunisation-program-schedule#national-immunisation-program-schedule-from-1-july-2020 (accessed 16 November 2021).
  6. Better Health Channel. Meningococcal disease. Available at: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/meningococcal-disease (accessed 14 December 2021).

MAT-AU-2102488   Date of preparation March 2022

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