A middle aged woman holding a young child.

This potentially serious bacterial infection usually affects the very young and the elderly. Immunisation is recommended to help protect against pneumococcal disease.

Did you know?

  • The pneumococcus bacteria can be found in the nose, throat or windpipe of healthy people – often without causing any symptoms.
  • There are many different types of pneumococcus bacteria which vary in their biology and the way they cause disease. Only a few types cause serious disease.
A middle aged, bespectacled man standing in his back yard.

What is it?

Pneumococcal disease is an infection caused by bacteria called Streptococcus pneumoniae, or pneumococcus. There are many types of this 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; it can spread to other body parts, such as the ear or sinuses. In most cases, pneumococcal infections are mild. Yet serious complications can develop, leading to long-term problems such as hearing loss or brain damage. Some cases can be fatal.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms for pneumococcal disease vary and can depend on which part of the body is infected. They may include:

  • otitis media - middle ear swelling and pain causing red and swollen ear drum(s), sleepiness, fever and irritability
  • sinusitis - swelling and pain of the sinuses causing a sore face, blocked nose, headache and yellow-green mucus
  • septic arthritis - pain, swelling and stiffness of the joints
  • osteomyelitis - bone swelling causing fever, pain and stiffness
  • meningitis - swelling of the membranes that line the spinal cord and brain causing fever, headache, sensitivity to light, neck stiffness, confusion, irritability, drowsiness, vomiting and poor appetite
  • Bacteraemia - blood infection causing fever, irritability, drowsiness, chills and rash
  • Pneumonia - swelling of the lungs causing 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.

How is it spread?

The pneumococcus bacteria can spread from person to person through air droplets or direct contact with saliva and mucus. Coughing, sneezing, kissing, nose­blowing or spitting can spread the bacteria.

Many people, especially children, can have the bacteria in their nose, throat or windpipe without falling ill. It’s when your immune system is unable to stop the bacteria from growing and spreading to other parts of the body that you’re at risk of getting the disease.

Who is at risk?

The very young and people aged over 60 are most at risk from pneumococcal disease.

Other people at risk include, but are not limited to:

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
  • People with certain medical conditions and those with a weakened immune system
  • People with certain behavioural factors such as, smoking and drinking excessive alcohol

This is not a full list - other people may be at risk of pneumococcal disease. Please discuss your individual circumstances with your doctor.

Who should be vaccinated?

  • The pneumococcal vaccine is recommended and provided free for infants as part of the National Immunisation Program (NIP). It is usually given at 2, 4 and 12 months of age. Additional vaccines are available for:

    • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and medically at-risk children at 6 months of age;
    • Medically at-risk children at 4 years of age;
    • Medically at risk Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from 15 years of age. 

    There are extra doses which are recommended but not funded for children medically at risk, please speak to your doctor about your child’s individual circumstances.

    Immunisation schedule

    •  Immunisation funded via the National Immunisation Program (NIP)
    •  Immunisation funded via the NIP for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and/or medically at-risk children
    •  Immunisation recommended by experts for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and/or medically at-risk children but is not funded
    Diseases Birth 2 months 4 months 6 months 12 months 18 months 4 years 10 to <15 years 15-19 years
    Chickenpox (varicella)+                  
    A second dose of varicella vaccine is recommended any time between 4 years of age and less than 14 years, at least 4 weeks after the first dose. Speak to your doctor to learn more.
    Diphtheria                  
     
    Hepatitis A+                  
    Two doses of Hepatitis A vaccine are recommended and NIP-funded for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children at 12 months and 18 months living in certain areas. A two-dose schedule (which is not funded) is also recommended for some medically at-risk children and adolescents. Speak to your doctor to learn more.
    Hepatitis B+                  
    An additional booster vaccine is recommended at 12 months of age for preterm infants who were born at less than 32 weeks gestation or whose birth weight was under 2000 grams. Speak to your doctor to learn more.
    Haemophilus influenzae
    type b (Hib)
                     
     
    Human Papillomavirus (HPV)                  
     
    Measles                  
     
    Meningococcal ACWY disease+                  
    The meningococcal ACWY vaccine is strongly recommended (but not funded) for children less than 2 years of age, adolescents (15 - 19 years), Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (2 months - 19 years), and those aged at or above 2 months with certain medical conditions. A free dose is given at 12 months of age. For anyone wishing to reduce their risk of meningococcal disease the vaccine is recommended if their doctor deems it appropriate. Speak to your doctor to learn more or see who is most at risk of meningococcal disease here.
    Meningococcal B disease+                  
    The meningococcal B vaccine is strongly recommended (but not funded) for children less than 2 years of age, adolescents (15 - 19 years), Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (2 months - 19 years), and those aged at or above 2 months with certain medical conditions. For anyone wishing to reduce their risk of meningococcal disease the vaccine is recommended if their doctor deems it appropriate. Speak to your doctor to learn more or see who is most at risk of meningococcal disease here.
    Mumps                  
     
    Pneumococcal disease+                  
    An additional dose of pneumococcal vaccine is recommended and NIP-funded at 6 months of age for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. Two additional doses (at 6 months and 4 years) are recommended and NIP-funded for medically-at risk children. Further doses may be recommended and funded during adolescence depending on risk – speak to your doctor to learn more.
    Polio                  
     
    Rotavirus                  
     
    Rubella                  
     
    Tetanus                  
     
    Whooping cough (pertussis)                  
     
    Annual flu+      
     

     

     

     

     

     
    The influenza vaccine is recommended annually for all people aged 6 months and over. Influenza vaccine is funded under the NIP for those at or above 6 months of age with certain medical conditions and for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 6 months to under 5 years and those aged at or above 15 years. Learn more about who should receive flu vaccination.
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  • The pneumococcal vaccine is recommended and provided free as part of the NIP for all adults aged 65 years and over. It’s also provided free to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people at 50 years of age.

    Other people may also be at risk of pneumococcal disease. Please discuss your individual circumstances with your doctor to see if immunisation is recommended for you.

    If you are planning on becoming pregnant, please speak to your doctor about whether immunisation against pneumococcal disease is appropriate.

    Immunisation schedule

    •  Immunisation funded via the National Immunisation Program (NIP)
    •  Immunisations may be recommended by experts but is not funded
    Diseases All adults Planning for a baby Pregnancy 65 and over 70 to 79 years Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander adults
    Chickenpox (varicella)            
     
    Diphtheria            
     
    Hepatitis B            
     
    Measles            
     
    Meningococcal ACWY disease            
     
    Meningococcal B disease            
     
    Mumps            
     
    Pneumococcal disease+            
    Pneumococcal vaccine is recommended and funded for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples at 50 years of age, with a second dose recommended five years later. All non-Indigenous people can receive a free vaccine at 65 years of age. Women planning pregnancy who have risk factors for pneumococcal disease, including smokers and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, should be assessed for pneumococcal vaccination.
    Rubella            
     
    Shingles (Herpes zoster)+            
    The herpes zoster (shingles) vaccine is funded for adults aged 70 years, with a short-term catch-up program for adults aged 71-79. It is also recommended (but not funded) for all adults over 60 years of age.
    Tetanus            
     
    Whooping cough (pertussis)            
     
    Annual flu+            
    The influenza vaccine is recommended annually for all adults, and is funded for pregnant women (during any stage of pregnancy), people aged 65 and over, people with certain medical conditions and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
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Treatment

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

Important information

For information about pneumococcal immunisation speak to your doctor.

Some side effects may be experienced following immunisation. Please discuss any side effects or concerns with your doctor.

AUS/VAC/0080/18 Date of approval: November 2018