Pneumococcal Disease Basics
The best way to prevent pneumococcal disease is vaccination.
Two vaccines are available to prevent pneumococcal disease. Talk to your health care provider about which vaccine is right for you or your children.
- Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine (PCV13, PCV15, or PCV20)
- Pneumococcal Polysaccharide Vaccine (PPSV23)
Pneumococcal disease is an infection caused by a type of bacteria called Streptococcus pneumoniae. It can cause pneumonia, bloodstream infections, or meningitis.
In children, pneumococcal disease is the most common cause of serious bacterial infections, including infection of the lining of the brain and spinal cord (meningitis), infection of the blood (bacteremia), and infection of the lungs (pneumonia). It is also the most common bacterial cause of acute middle ear infections in children, which are the most frequent reason for pediatric office visits in the United States. Children under 2 years of age have the highest rates of pneumococcal disease.
Pneumococcal pneumonia (lung infection) is the most common type of bacterial pneumonia. Death rates for pneumococcal pneumonia in adults are 15-20 percent and as high as 40 percent among elderly patients. Pneumococcal pneumonia is especially severe in adults over 65 years of age and in persons of any age who have chronic medical problems such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart disease including congestive heart failure, diabetes, alcohol abuse, kidney failure, cancers, and weakened immune systems from disease or drug treatments. Pneumococcal pneumonia is also more common in smokers and persons with HIV-infection.
Pneumococcal meningitis (S. pneumoniae) is the leading cause of bacterial meningitis among children and adults in the United States. Death rates from pneumococcal meningitis are approximately 20-50 percent in adults. Pneumococcal meningitis can result in permanent damage to the brain and nervous system, learning deficits and deafness.
Severe pneumococcal infections are more common in:
- Adults over 65 years of age and children less than 2 years.
- Persons with underlying medical conditions such as sickle cell disease, HIV infection, and those with no or poorly functioning spleens.
- Black persons, Alaskan Natives and American Indians.
There are many types of pneumococcal disease. See CDC's Pneumococcal Disease: Symptoms and Complications web page for more information on the symptoms for each type of pneumococcal disease.
Treatment and antibiotics
Until recently, pneumococcal infections could be treated effectively with antibiotics, however, many pneumococcal bacteria are becoming resistant to commonly used antibiotics making treatment more difficult. For this reason, it is desirable to prevent pneumococcal infections through vaccination, rather than depend on antibiotic treatment after infection occurs.
- Immunization: Me and My Family
Vaccination schedules for children and adults.
- CDC: Pneumococcal Disease
Information and resources from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
- Vaccine Information You Need: Pneumococcal Disease
Information and resources from the Immunization Action Coalition (IAC).