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What is Pneumococcal Disease?

Pneumococcal disease is caused by the bacteria pneumococcus (streptococcus pneumoniae). There are more than 90 different types of pneumococcal bacteria that attack different parts of the body.

The different strains can cause life threatening illnesses such as meningitis, pneumonia and bacteremia (blood poisoning).  However many people carry the bacteria streptococcus pneumoniae  in their nose and throat and are asymptomatic (don’t have symptoms).  Symptoms arise when the bacteria overcomes their bodies natural defences.

How is it spread?

Pneumococcal disease is common and is spread easily from person to person through coughing and sneezing or close contact with respiratory secretions. Approximately 5 cases in every 20 children who get pneumonia will be fatal.

An example of pneumonia spread through travel is SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome).

Who is at risk/Who should be vaccinated for pneumonia?

Pneumococcal disease can infect anyone at any time and is a leading cause of death throughout the world. Reported rates of pneumonia are higher in developing countries.

Rates in B.C have significantly lowered due to routine vaccination schedules.

There are certain groups that are at higher risk for infection and complication, these groups are:

  • Children under the age of 5 and Adults over the age of 65
  • Immunocompromised individuals due to illness or medication
  • Anyone with HIV
  • People who have problems with their heart, lungs or kidneys
  • People with diabetes
  • People who no longer have a spleen or who have problems with their spleen
  • People who live in nursing homes

Is there a vaccine?

There is a safe and effective vaccine that protects against the most common types of pneumococcal diseases. Vaccine is recommended for all children under the age of 2 and children under 5 who are at risk.

Another vaccine is available for adults ages 65 and older.

Discuss with your health care provider which vaccine is right for you.

Are there any side effects to the vaccine?

Allergic reactions are rare and side effects, if any, are usually minor and include:

  • Redness and swelling at the injection site
  • Mild fever

Once infected is there a treatment?

Pneumococcal disease is treated with different antibiotics.  Certain strains have become resistant to common antibiotics over the years making prevention extremely important.


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