Pneumococcal disease is an infection caused by the bacteria Streptococcus pneumoniae. This bacteria is one of the most common causes of severe pneumonia, which is an infection of the lungs. It can also cause other types of infections, such as:
- Ear infections
- Sinus infections
- Bacteremia (bloodstream infection)
Even though anyone can get pneumococcal disease, there are certain people that are at a greater risk. This includes children below the age of two and adults above the age of 65. In addition to some other types of illnesses, any person who has a chronic health condition involving the heart, lungs, kidney, or liver are also at an increased risk for getting pneumococcal disease. This includes people with asthma and COPD.
Pneumococcal bacteria spread from person to person by direct contact with respiratory secretions, like mucus and saliva. Many people, especially children, at times may have the bacteria in their nose and/or throat without becoming ill. This is referred to as “carriage” and it is unclear why it only rarely leads to illness.
The symptoms and potential complications of pneumococcal disease depend on the part of the body that is infected. Pneumococcal pneumonia is the most common serious form of this disease and the symptoms include cough, fever, chills, difficulty breathing, rapid breathing, and chest pain. Older adults may also experience low alertness or confusion. Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial keys to treating this disease. Although antibiotics can treat pneumococcal disease, some types of pneumococcal bacteria have become resistant to antibiotics. The CDC states that pneumococcal bacteria are resistant to one or more antibiotics in 3 out of every 10 cases.
The best way to prevent pneumococcal disease is to get vaccinated. There are two pneumococcal vaccines available, the Pneumovax 23 (PPSV23) and the Prevnar 13 (PCV13). The Pneumovax 23 protects against 23 types of pneumococcal bacteria. The CDC recommends that all adults 65 years and older receive this vaccine, as well as any person between the ages of 2 – 64 that are at an increased risk for getting pneumococcal disease. The Prevnar 13 protects against the 13 types of pneumococcal bacteria that cause most of the severe illness in children and adults. This vaccine can also help prevent some ear infections. CDC recommends Prevnar 13 for all children (given at 2, 4, 6, and 12 to 15 months of age). CDC also recommends Prevnar 13 for adults 19 years or older with certain medical conditions and for all adults 65 years or older.
At Allergy & Clinical Immunology, we have both pneumococcal vaccines available. For more information about pneumococcal disease and the Pneumovax 23 and Prevnar 13, make an appointment with one of our physicians or physician assistants.