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Diseases & Topics

Pneumococcal Disease

Pneumococcal disease refers to illness caused by a type of bacteria called Streptococcus pneumoniae, which can be spread by coughing, sneezing or respiratory secretions. Vaccination can prevent pneumococcal disease.

The symptoms of pneumococcal disease vary depending on what part of the body is involved. When Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria invade the lungs, they can cause pneumonia. They can also invade the bloodstream causing bacteremia and/or invade the tissues and fluids surrounding the brain and spinal cord, causing meningitis. Pneumococcal disease can also cause middle ear infections and sinus infections. Invasive pneumococcal disease kills nearly 5,000 people in the United States each year, most of them 65 years of age or older.

Pneumococcal disease is also the most common cause of invasive bacterial infection in American children. Pneumococcal disease in young children can lead to meningitis, bacteremia, and, in some cases, death. Children under 2 years of age fall into the highest general risk group for invasive pneumococcal infections.

The best way to protect both children and adults against pneumococcal disease is through vaccination. There are two safe and effective vaccines; a conjugate vaccine for children under 2 years of age and a polysaccharide vaccine for children 2 years and older and for adults. You cannot get pneumococcal disease from the vaccine. A single dose of the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine protects against the 23 types of Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria that are responsible for causing more than 90 percent of all pneumococcal disease cases in adults. A single dose of pneumococcal vaccine is recommended for most persons 65 years or older. Some people who were younger than 65 when they received the vaccine may need a second dose at age 65.

The pneumococcal conjugate vaccine, administered to infants and toddlers before their second birthday, protects against 86 percent of the bacteria types that cause blood infections in children and 83 percent of those that cause meningitis in children.

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