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Pneumococcal disease is most common in the very young and elderly.

Pneumococcal - What is it?

Pneumococcal disease is an infection caused by bacteria called Streptococcus pneumoniae. There are many types of Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria, some of which are commonly found in the nose, throat and windpipe of healthy people.  

The bacteria usually start growing in the nose and throat and can then spread to other body parts, such as ear or sinus. In more serious cases the bacteria can enter the blood or cause inflammation of the lung or the brain.

Pneumococcal - What are the symptoms?

In most cases, pneumococcal infections are mild, however in some cases serious complications can develop. These can lead to long term problems such as hearing loss or brain damage or even be fatal. Symptoms for pneumococcal disease often relate to the part of the body that is infected. Symptoms may include:

  • otitis media (middle ear infection) - ear pain, red and swollen ear drum, sleepiness, fever and irritability
  • meningitis (swelling of the brain) - fever, headache, sensitivity to light, neck stiffness, confusion, irritability and drowsiness; vomiting and poor appetite are common symptoms in babies
  • bacteraemia (blood infection) - fever, irritability, drowsiness, chills and rash
  • pneumonia (lung infection) - fever, coughing, chest pain and difficulty breathing

This is not a full list of symptoms that can occur following a pneumococcal infection. Please speak to your doctor if you have any concerns about pneumococcal disease.

Pneumococcal - How is it spread?

Pneumococcus bacteria are spread from person-to-person through air droplets or direct contact with saliva and mucous when coughing, sneezing, kissing, nose-blowing or spitting, and by touching an infected person.

Many people, especially children, can have the bacteria in their nose, throat or windpipe without falling ill.

Pneumococcal - Who is at risk?

The age groups at highest risk are children younger than 2 years old and adults aged 65 years and over.

People who smoke, drink alcohol excessively, have conditions that weaken the immune system and severe asthma are also at an increased risk of pneumococcal disease. Crowded conditions such as group childcare and aged care facilities also pose a risk.

Other people may be at risk of pneumococcal disease. Please discuss your individual circumstances with your doctor.

Pneumococcal - Vaccination

Pneumococcal vaccination is recommended and provided free for infants under the National Immunisation Program (NIP). It is usually given at 2, 4 and 6 months of age.

Pneumococcal vaccination is also recommended and provided for free as part of the NIP for all adults aged 65 years and over.

Some people may need extra doses of the pneumococcal vaccine, the National Immunisation Program provides additional free vaccination to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people or children living in high risk areas and those who are medically at risk of pneumococcal infection. Please speak to your doctor regarding your individual circumstances. Your doctor will be able to provide advice if you or your child need these extra doses.

Other individuals may also be at risk of pneumococcal disease, and vaccination may be recommended. Please discuss your individual circumstances with your doctor.

If you are planning on becoming pregnant, please discuss with your doctor whether vaccination against pneumococcal disease is appropriate for you.

It is important to complete the recommended course of vaccinations to help protect against pneumococcal disease and help maintain immunity.

Currently available pneumococcal vaccines do not protect against all the different types of Streptococcus pneumoniae that can cause disease, and not all disease cases caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae will be prevented by vaccination. They do however, help protect against the types that cause most of the serious pneumococcal disease in children.

Pneumococcal - Treatment

Antibiotics are used to treat pneumococcal infection. Hospitalisation may be required depending on the severity of disease.

For information about pneumococcal immunisation in your area, contact your State or Territory Health Department or doctor.


Some side effects may be experienced following vaccination. Please discuss any side effects or concerns with your healthcare professional.




AUS/VAC/0028/15. Date of approval: April 2015.