Pneumococcal disease refers to a number of clinical illnesses caused by the Streptococcus pneumoniae bacterium (also called pneumococcus), an organism which is sometimes carried in the upper respiratory tracts of healthy people. The disease is spread from person-to-person by direct contact with infected respiratory secretions through coughing and sneezing or touching contaminated surfaces.
What is Pneumococcal disease?
While there are more than 90 types of pneumococcus bacteria, only a small number are responsible for serious, or invasive disease. (Invasive infections are those where the bacteria attack parts of the body that are normally free from microorganisms). Depending on the site of infection, this can lead to meningitis, pneumonia, bacteraemia or otitis media. Pneumococcal pneumonia is the most common community-acquired pneumonia.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms will also reflect where the infection is located: for pneumonia, they could be fever, chills, cough, rapid or difficulty in breathing and chest pain; in meningitis, stiff neck, fever, photophobia, confusion and headaches. (Caveat: Older adults with pneumococcal pneumonia may experience confusion or low alertness, rather than the more common symptoms listed above.)
Where is it found?
Anyone can become infected and go on to develop pneumococcal disease, however the risk of progressing to severe invasive pneumococcal disease (IPD) is highest in young infants and adults aged >70 years. Indigenous people and Torres Strait Islanders, particularly young adults, are disproportionately affected by pneumococcal disease.
Children at increased risk for pneumococcal disease include those:
- Younger than 5 years of age
- With certain medical conditions: sickle cell disease, congenital or acquired asplenia, HIV infection, diabetes, immune compromising conditions, nephrotic syndrome, or chronic heart, lung, kidney, or liver disease
- With cochlear implants or cerebrospinal fluid leaks (escape of the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord)
Adults at risk for pneumococcal disease:
- The elderly
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders of all ages but especially those >50 years
- Adults with certain underlying medical conditions: Chronic illnesses affecting the heart, liver, kidney, or lung (including chronic obstructive lung disease, emphysema, asthma), or with diabetes or alcoholism. Conditions that weaken the immune system: HIV/AIDS, cancer, or damaged/absent spleen
- Those with Cochlear Implants
What is Pneumococcal disease Vaccination?
There are two vaccines used in Australia which help protect against pneumococcal disease:
- Prevenar 13® (Pfizer) – 13-valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (13vPCV)
- Pneumovax 23® (Seqirus/Merck) – 23-valent pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (23vPPV)
Standard schedule with NO underlying medical risk factors:
All children are recommended to receive 13vPCV in a 3-dose schedule at 2, 4 and 12 months of age.
As from July 1, 2020 the recommendation will be for all healthy non-Indigenous adults at ≥70 years of age to receive a single funded dose of 13vPCV. This dose is regardless of whether they have had the 23vPPV previously recommended at 65 years of age (as long as at least 12 months has elapsed between the 2 vaccine doses).
Please note: There are differing vaccine schedules – number of doses and indications - for those adults and children with underlying medical risk factors. Speak to your doctor or specialist for more information.
Level of protection
- the effectiveness of the 13vPCV in infants is approximately 90%
- the effectiveness of 23vPPV against IPD in adults is approximately 80%
Possible Side Effects
Possible side effects:
- PCV13: Redness, swelling, pain, or tenderness at site of administration, fever, loss of appetite, fussiness (irritability), feeling tired, headache, and chills.
- PPV23: Redness or pain at the injection site, feeling tired, fever or muscle aches.