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What is pneumococcal disease?

 

Pneumococcal disease is a broad term used to classify illnesses caused by a bacterium called Streptococcus pneumoniae (pneumococcus).  Infection with pneumococcal bacteria can cause respiratory infections (sinusitis, pneumonia), ear infections, blood infections (sepsis) or meningitis (infection of the covering of the brain and spinal cord).  These conditions may lead to hospitalization, and thousands die each year from pneumococcal illnesses.

 

Save time at the pharmacy!

While you’re in getting a flu shot, ask your pharmacist for an immunization evaluation to determine what other vaccines you may need.

How does pneumococcal disease spread?

 

Pneumococcal disease is spread by coughing, sneezing or close contact.  People can carry the bacteria in their noses and throats without symptoms and make others sick (asymptomatic spread).  Children under the age of 2 years, and many adults are at high risk for pneumococcal disease. Adults at risk for pneumococcal disease include those 65 years of age and older, those who smoke, drink alcohol in excess or who have underlying conditions that make them more vulnerable to infections.  Such conditions include: heart, liver or kidney problems, chronic lung problems, diabetes, a weakened immune system, implants in the ear to improve hearing or leakage of fluid surrounding the spinal cord and brain (CSF or cerebrospinal fluid leak). 

 

Symptoms

 

Symptoms of pneumococcal disease depend on the organ system affected.

 

Sinus and ear infections:

  • Cough
  • Ear pain
  • Fever
  • Sore throat

 

Pneumonia, blood infections, and meningitis:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Headache
  • Stiff neck
  • Pain when looking at bright lights
  • Confusion or decreased alertness
 

Prevention

 

Adults at risk for pneumococcal disease should get vaccinated for pneumococcal disease, and get an annual influenza vaccine each year.  Influenza is a risk factor for developing pneumococcal disease.

 

There are two pneumococcal vaccines available in the United States:

  • Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine PCV13 (Prevnar 13®) – protects against 13 strains of pneumococcal bacteria.  CDC recommends PCV13 for adults 19 and older with an underlying condition (listed above), ear implants, or CSF leak.  Adults 65 years and older may discuss with their provider to determine the need for PCV13 vaccine.
  • Pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine or PPSV23 (Pneumovax®) – protects against 23 strains of pneumococcal bacteria.  CDC recommends PPSV23 for all adults 65 years of age and older, and those 19 and older with the conditions listed above.  PPSV23 is also recommended for adults age 19 years through 64 years who are smokers.
 

Young children should receive 4 doses of PCV13 at ages 2 months, 4 months and 6 months, and 12 months, as part of their routine childhood vaccinations.

 

Additional tips to protect yourself from pneumococcal disease:

  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water. Alcohol based hand sanitizers are also effective.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
  • Stay away from sick people.
  • Eat a healthy, well balanced diet.  Exercise, get plenty of rest and manage stress.
  • If you are sick, limit contact with others to prevent spreading it.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough. Immediately throw it away.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces and do not share eating utensils, dishes or glasses with others.
 
 

References

https://www.cdc.gov/pneumococcal/resources/prevent-pneumococcal-factsheet.html (Accessed 18-Mar-2021)

https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/schedules/hcp/imz/child-adolescent.html (Accessed 18-Mar-2021)