Pneumococcal disease refers to a range of illnesses that affect various parts of the body and are caused by infection with the bacterium Streptococcus pneumoniae, commonly known as pneumococcus.
Illnesses range from mild infections, such as ear infection, to pneumonia (inflammation of the lungs) and life-threatening infections of the bloodstream and central nervous system, such as meningitis (inflammation of the brain). Immunisation can substantially reduce the risk of infection, especially in high risk groups:
People aged 65 years and over
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 50 years and over
People with serious underlying medical conditions
Many people carry Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria in their nose and throat. The bacteria are transferred to another person through droplets of saliva or mucus, such as when a ‘carrier’ sneezes, coughs, shares toys or kisses someone.
Most of the time, this doesn’t cause any illness. However, vulnerable people may develop pneumococcal disease. The immune system is unable to keep the bacteria in check, which then multiply out of control and spread to other areas of the body.
Since other types of bacteria can cause similar infections, it is important to test specifically for the presence of Streptococcus pneumoniae.
Free Immunisation in Victoria:
Protection for adults against pneumococcal disease is available under the National Immunisation Program Schedule. In Victoria, immunisation against pneumococcal disease is free of charge for:
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged between 15 and 49 years with medical risk factors (see above)
all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 50 years or older
all people aged 65 years or older
All adults aged less than 65 years who are medically at risk should also be immunised (see definitions above) although the vaccine is not free under the National Immunisation Program. Speak to your doctor or immunisation provider for further information about the vaccine and its costs.
Treatment for pneumococcal disease
Treatment options include:
antibiotics such as penicillin
plenty of fluids
hospital admission in severe cases – for example, meningitis.
People who should receive the pneumococcal vaccine
There are currently 90 different recognised strains of Streptococcus pneumoniae and no vaccine can protect against all of them. However, two vaccines are available to help prevent infection with the most common strains.
A number of medical conditions put people at higher risk of pneumococcal disease and people with these conditions require immunisation. You should speak with your doctor about whether you (or your child) are at risk.
Situations where immunisation is required include people who have:
no spleen or have a spleen with poor function
lung disease (including people who smoke)
chronic liver disease
a weakened immune system - discuss with your doctor if you fall into this category
been born prematurely (less than 28 weeks gestation).
Complications of pneumococcal disease
Pneumococcal immunisation can help prevent a number of serious complications of pneumococcal disease including:
sinusitis – infection of the air spaces in the face that causes pain, a blocked nose, yellow-green nasal mucus and headache
middle ear infection – causes pain in the ears, hearing loss, high temperature, nausea and vomiting
septic arthritis – joint infection causes pain, swelling and reduced mobility of the joint
pneumonia – lung inflammation that causes fever, cough, chest pains and breathing problems, such as shortness of breath
septicaemia – a very serious blood infection that causes fever, headache and muscular aches and pains
meningitis – inflammation of the brain that causes high fever, headache, stiff neck, nausea and vomiting, and sometimes coma
death – approximately 30 per cent of cases of pneumococcal meningitis are fatal.
As a patient of Modern Medical, you may have received communication from us about your eligibility for the vaccine. Please contact us to arrange an appointment to discuss your options further.