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Pneumococcal Shots

Pneumococcal disease is an infection caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria, also known as pneumococcus. Pneumococcal bacteria can cause many types of illnesses that range from mild to very severe. When pneumococcal bacteria spread from the nose and throat to ears or sinuses, it generally causes mild infections. When the bacteria spread into other parts of the body, it can lead to severe health problems (pneumonia, bacteremia, and meningitis).

Who is at risk

Children at increased risk for pneumococcal disease include those:

  • Younger than 2 years old
  • Who have certain illnesses (sickle cell disease, HIV infection, diabetes, immune compromising conditions, nephrotic syndrome, or chronic heart, lung, kidney, or liver disease)
  • With cochlear implants or cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) leaks (escape of the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord)

Adults 65 years or older are at increased risk for pneumococcal disease. Some adults 19 through 64 years old are also at increased risk for pneumococcal disease, including those:

  • With chronic illnesses (chronic heart, liver, kidney, or lung [including chronic obstructive lung disease, emphysema, and asthma] disease; diabetes; or alcoholism)
  • With conditions that weaken the immune system (HIV/AIDS, cancer, or damaged/absent spleen)
  • With cochlear implants or cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) leaks (escape of the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord)
  • Who smoke cigarettes

Symptoms

Pneumococcal pneumonia (lung infection) is the most common serious form of pneumococcal disease. Symptoms include:

  • Fever and chills
  • Cough
  • Rapid breathing or difficulty breathing
  • Chest pain

Older adults with pneumococcal pneumonia may experience confusion or low alertness, rather than the more common symptoms.

Pneumococcal meningitis is an infection of the tissue covering the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms include:

  • Stiff neck
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Photophobia (eyes being more sensitive to light)
  • Confusion

In babies, meningitis may cause poor eating and drinking, low alertness, and vomiting.

Pneumococcal bacteremia is a blood infection. Symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Low alertness

What you can do

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. Avoid these if you know someone has pneumococcal disease.

Preventive service at no cost

CDC recommends pneumococcal vaccination for all children younger than 2 years old and all adults 65 years or older. In certain situations, other children and adults should also get pneumococcal vaccines.

Why vaccination is important

Pneumococcal disease causes thousands of infections, such as meningitis, bloodstream infections, pneumonia, and ear infections. It can lead to disabilities like deafness, brain damage, or loss of arms or legs.

Not everyone who carries the bacteria gets sick from it. That means it is possible to catch it from someone who seems to be healthy.

What the vaccination is

CDC recommends pneumococcal vaccination for all children younger than 2 years old and all adults 65 years or older. In certain situations, other children and adults should also get pneumococcal vaccines. Below is more information about who should and should not get each type of pneumococcal vaccine.

Treatment

Antibiotics can treat pneumococcal disease. However, many types of pneumococcal bacteria have become resistant to some of the antibiotics used to treat these infections.

Additional tips

Because of age or health conditions, some people should not get certain vaccines or should wait before getting them. Read the guidelines below and ask your or your child’s healthcare professional for more information.

Most people who get a pneumococcal vaccine do not have any serious problems with it. With any medicine, including vaccines, there is a chance of side effects. These are usually mild and go away on their own within a few days, but serious reactions are possible.

  • Reactions where the shot was given
    • Redness
    • Swelling
    • Pain or tenderness
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fussiness (irritability)
  • Feeling tired
  • Headache
  • Chills

Young children who get the pneumococcal vaccine at the same time as inactivated flu vaccine may be at increased risk for seizures caused by fever. Ask your doctor for more information.