Pneumococcal disease

Page last updated: 20 April 2015

Pneumococcal disease disease refers to a wide range of infections is caused by the bacterium Streptococcus pneumonia/pneumonia. The most severe infections, bacteraemia (a blood stream infection) and meningitis (inflammation of the membranes enclosing the brain), are a leading cause of life-threatening illnesses in Australia – particularly among children under two years of age and elderly people.

Some types of Streptococcus pneumonia are commonly found in the upper respiratory tract (nose, throat and windpipe) of healthy people. As well as meningitis and bacteraemia, pneumococcal disease can cause pneumonia (lung infection), septicaemia (blood poisoning), and middle ear and sinus infections.

Causes

The pneumococcus bacteria can spread between people through infected droplets in the air and by touching an infected person. It most commonly spreads when an infected person sneezes or coughs.

Symptoms

Pneumococcal meningitis symptoms may include high fever and headache, which may develop over a few hours or one to two days. Other symptoms can also include: vomiting, sensitivity to light, neck stiffness, poor appetite, confusion, irritability, and drowsiness. Pneumococcal meningitis is extremely serious and can be fatal.

Pneumococcal pneumonia symptoms may be vague and include fever, coughing and difficulty breathing.

Pneumococcal blood system infections can cause symptoms such as fever, chills, irritability, drowsiness and rash.

Pneumococcal middle ear infections (otitis media) cause ear pain and a red and swollen ear drum, difficulty sleeping, fever and irritability. Acute middle ear infections are the most common symptom of non-invasive pneumococcal disease in children.

Prevention

Vaccination can substantially reduce the risk of infection with pneumococcal disease, particularly in young children. Pneumococcal vaccination is recommended as part of routine immunisation for people who face a high risk from pneumococcal and its complications. The pneumococcal vaccine is available free under the National Immunisation Program Schedule.

Immunisation against pneumococcal disease is achieved using single-disease vaccines. For babies, the first dose of pneumococcal vaccine is recommended at two months of age, with subsequent doses at four and six months of age. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and children with specific medical conditions may need further doses. It is recommended that the pneumococcal vaccine be given at the same time as other scheduled vaccines.

The pneumococcal vaccine is available free under the National Immunise Australia Program for:

To receive pneumococcal immunisation, visit your local doctor or immunisation provider. It is important to note that although the vaccine is provided at no cost, a consultation fee may apply.

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