What is pneumococcal disease?
Pneumococcal disease is caused by the Streptococcus pneumonia bacterium. There are over 90 different strains (serotypes). Many of these strains live in the respiratory passages of humans and cause no ill health. Only a small number of strains are responsible for most cases of invasive disease (infection) in people.
Types of pneumococcal infections
Infection commonly occurs in the:
- middle ear
- blood stream
- meninges – lining of the brain and spinal cord.
How does the infection spread?
Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria are spread through air-borne droplets of mucus or saliva by:
- touching contaminated surfaces.
People who are at increased risk of getting pneumococcal disease
Certain groups of people have an increased risk of infection including:
- people over 65
- Aboriginal people
- people with:
- existing chronic diseases such as cancer, lung or kidney disease
- weakened immune systems
- impaired spleen function or having no spleen
Signs and symptoms
Pneumococcal can cause many health conditions. Symptoms vary based on the type of infection you have and your age.
Symptoms of pneumococcal infections include:
- respiratory symptoms – cough, chills and shaking
- difficulty breathing
- ear pain or discharge from the ear
- nausea and vomiting
- chest pain – breathing in and out
- shortness of breath
- blood-stained sputum (spittle/mucus)
- light sensitivity
- poor appetite
- skin rash.
Diagnosis of pneumococcal disease
Testing for Streptococcus pneumonia needs to be specific as other bacteria can cause comparable infections.
Pneumococcal disease is diagnosed using a variety of tests depending on your symptoms.
- physical examination
- blood, urine, and sputum tests
- chest x-ray
- lumbar puncture test.
Treatment of pneumococcal disease
- pain relief
- drinking more fluids
- admission to hospital for acute cases.
Preventative treatment also includes vaccination against pneumococcal disease.
How can pneumococcal disease be prevented?
Two vaccines are available to help protect people against the most common strains of the Streptococcus pneumoniae.
Pneumococcal vaccinations are given free as part of the National Immunise Australia Program Schedule (external site) to:
- all infants 6 to 8 weeks, 4 and 6 months old
- children under 5 with specific medical risk factors
- adults 65 and over
- Aboriginal people 15 years and over.
Pneumococcal vaccines for adults and children
Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV)
This vaccine is available to all children under 2 years as part of the National Immunise Australia Program. It's known by the brand name Prevenar 13.
Pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPV)
This vaccine is given to people 65 and over and vulnerable, high risk people with chronic health conditions. It is known by the brand name Pneumovax 23.
Learn more about childhood immunisation (external site) and the vaccines available to help protect you from pneumococcal disease (external site).
Where to get help
- See your doctor
- Visit a GP after hours
- Phone healthdirect on 1800 022 222
- Phone the Immunise Australia Hotline on 1800 671 811
Download the Pneumococcal disease fact sheet (PDF 297KB)
- The bacterium Streptococcus pneumonia is spread through coughing sneezing, saliva and mucus.
- Pneumococcal infections are vaccine preventable.
- Children and people with weak immune systems and chronic diseases are the most vulnerable.
- The disease can be life-threatening.
This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.