Pneumococcal disease is a serious and deadly infection, but most people know very little about it. Pneumococcal disease is caused by bacteria, which can lead to serious infections in the lungs, blood, ears, sinuses, brain and blood stream. People sometimes call pneumococcal lung disease as "pneumonia."
How many people get it?
Millions of people are infected with pneumococcus annually. We actually do not know the total number since it is at large scale and it includes infections that are relatively mild (such as sinus and ear infections) as well as severe ones like pneumonia, blood infection and meningitis, where the death rate can be more than 30 percent.
Can it be cured?
Yes, most cases can be cured with appropriate antibiotics if they are treated early. However, it is crucial to know that even with appropriate antibiotic therapy, the mortality rate can be high in patients who are elderly or with underlying medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease or chronic lung disease. This is why it is so important to prevent the infection rather than treating it.
What will happen if I get it?
Pneumococcus can lead to serious infections. The most common is “pneumococcal” pneumonia, which is the most common type of severe infection of the lungs. Another serious form of pneumococcal disease is meningitis, an infection that happens at lining of the brain. Other more common types of pneumococcal infection are sinusitis and bronchitis.
Can I die from pneumococcal disease?
Yes, pneumococcal disease causes thousands of deaths each year in the world.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of pneumococcal disease are dependant by which parts of the body are infected. If the lungs are infected, fever, chills, shortness of breath, cough and chest pain may occur.
How are pneumococcal disease transmitted?
Pneumococcus is a germ that is found in the airways of many people. It is spread by coughs, sneezes and other respiratory secretions. Pneumococcal bacteria may also live for a short time on surfaces. These bacteria, along with many others, are particularly common in areas where people (particularly small children) are in close rooms with one another. Day care centres, schools and long-term care facilities are places where there would be a higher risk of getting the disease.
Can I give it to my grandparents or the kids in my family?
Yes, but this can be prevented by pneumococcal vaccination of infants and children according to the recommended schedule. The germs lives in the nose and throat, especially in infants and young children who have not been vaccinated. Using the routinely recommended pneumococcal vaccine in infants and children will prevents the bacteria from being carried in their noses and throats so it can’t be passed on to others. Cough hygiene and hand washing will prevent the germs from spreading.
Who can get pneumococcal disease?
Anyone can get a pneumococcal infection; but severe infections are commonly found in very young children, older adults and persons who have long term health conditions.
How can I avoid getting pneumococcal disease?
Pneumococcal diseases can cause serious illness and even death among adults. Especially serious forms of the disease are known as invasive pneumococcal disease and include bloodstream infections and infections of the lining of the brain (meningitis). The best way to prevent these serious forms of pneumococcal disease is through vaccination.
How effective is the vaccine?
The pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine is used in adults. It protects against 23 different types of pneumococcal organisms, and it is indeed safe and effective. Studies suggest vaccination will prevent between 50 to 80 percent of cases of so-called invasive pneumococcal disease. Yes, the vaccine does work.
Aren’t vaccines just for kids?
Vaccines for infants and children are important and sometimes life-saving. But vaccine-preventable infections affect even healthy adolescents and adults. For example, influenza and pertussis or whooping cough. These infections not only are capable of causing infections that can be spread to more vulnerable people like very young infants who may be hospitalized or die (influenza and whooping cough), but these infections have also been associated with heart attacks (influenza and pneumococcus) in adults age 65 years and older. Vaccines are for everyone.
How often do I need to get vaccinated?
If you are older than age 65, you need just one vaccination. A second dose is recommended in certain conditions that you should discuss with your doctor. For example, individuals age 19 and older who have chronic kidney failure, lost their spleen, or have low body immunity conditions need two pneumococcal vaccines followed by another dose after five years.
How do I know it’s safe? Is it possible to get the disease from the vaccine?
Vaccines are tested very meticulously in clinical trials before they are approved. The current pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine was approved nearly 30 years ago and has an excellent safety record based on pre-licensure studies as well as studies conducted after licensure. In addition, the national vaccine safety surveillance program sponsored by the CDC and FDA (VAERS) has demonstrated the safety of this vaccine over many years and after tens of millions of doses given in the US alone.
I was vaccinated for pneumococcal disease, but I still got pneumonia. Does that mean the vaccine didn’t work?
No, it doesn’t. Pneumonia can be caused by many other types of organisms besides the pneumococcal organism, and the vaccine doesn’t work against those other types of bacteria. Secondly, the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine protects against 23 types of pneumococcal organisms that are responsible for most infections, but there are other types not covered by the vaccine. Finally, this vaccine is most effective — not so much at preventing pneumonia caused by the pneumococcal organisms — but at preventing the especially serious complications of pneumococcal disease known as invasive pneumococcal disease that might accompany pneumonia.
My doctor said I should also get an annual flu shot. Why do I need both vaccines?
Influenza and pneumococcal vaccines protect against two different diseases, both of which can cause serious, life-threatening illnesses and both diseases involve the lungs. Influenza is the winter virus that can affect even healthy people, causing an illness that is so severe it can result in hospitalization.The pneumococcus is a germ that can cause pneumonia and other infections such as in the bloodstream (bacteremia) and lining of the brain (meningitis). It is especially good at causing pneumonia as a complication of influenza infection. So you can understand why it is so important to be vaccinated to get protection against both influenza and the pneumococcus. Both vaccines are very safe.