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Pneumococcal disease is caused by a bacteria (Streptococcus pneumoniae). This germ is easily spread. And it can be more dangerous than you think. There are different kinds of pneumococcal disease depending on what part of the body is infected. When the lungs are infected, pneumonia results. When the tissues that cover the brain are infected, meningitis results. Other infections from this germ include middle ear infection (otitis media) and bloodstream infections (bacteremia or septicemia).
The pneumococcal vaccine is your best chance to avoid pneumococcal disease. The vaccine is given in the form of a shot (injection). This can be done at your doctor’s office or a health clinic. Drugstores, senior centers, and workplaces often offer vaccinations, too. If you have questions about getting vaccinated, ask your health care provider.
The pneumococcal vaccine is safe and effective. It will not give you the disease.
Pneumococcal disease spreads from person to person through the air in droplets when someone with the bacteria coughs, sneezes, laughs, or talks.
Pneumococcal disease can be life-threatening, especially for people in high-risk groups. Each year, thousands of people die of this disease and thousands more become seriously ill.
You can get pneumococcal disease more than once. This is because there are many different types (strains) of the bacteria. Some strains are now resistant to treatment with antibiotics. So preventing the disease by vaccination is the best way to avoid getting the disease in the first place.
The symptoms will be different depending on where the infection is in the body:
Lungs (pneumonia): fever, cough, shortness of breath, chest pain
Covering of the brain (meningitis): fever, stiff neck, sensitivity to light, mental confusion, nausea and vomiting, seizures
Bloodstream (bacteremia or septicemia): fever, tiredness, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, shortness of breath, mental confusion, joint pain and chills
There are many strains of pneumococcal bacteria. Medical experts have developed two vaccines to protect against the strains that cause most of the pneumococcal diseases. The pneumococcal polysaccharide-protein conjugate vaccine (PCV13, Prevnar 13) is recommended for infants starting at 2 months old. The 23-Valent pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23) is recommended for persons 65 years and older. The vaccines are made from the killed bacteria. The bacteria in the vaccines will not make a person sick. But they do prompt the body to make antibodies to fight the bacteria strains. If you’re exposed to the same strains later, the antibodies will fight off the bacteria.
Persons 65 and older
Infants (4 dose series starting at 2 months)
People with chronic health problems (such as diabetes, chronic lung or heart disease, liver disease); or who have a cochlear implant
People who have weakened immune systems
People who live in nursing homes or other long-term care facilities
People who smoke or have asthma
Your health care provider can tell you more about the vaccine and whether you should get it.
PCV13 is recommended as a 4 dose series at ages 2, 3, 6 and 12-15 months. If a child isn’t vaccinated during this period or misses doses, he or she should still be vaccinated. The number of doses may depend on the presence of any underlying medical problems. Your health care provider can let you know about making up missed vaccinations for your child.
Adults 65 years or older need one dose. You may need a second dose if you received the first dose at a younger age. Your health care provider will let you know if you need a second dose.
For all other persons, the usual dose is one or two shots, depending on individual needs. Your health care provider can talk to you more about this.
Babies younger than 2 months
Persons allergic to any ingredient in the vaccine; let the health care provider know if you or your child have had a severe reaction to any vaccine or have an allergy to eggs.
Anyone who is severely ill should wait until their health improves and they have consulted with their health care provider before being vaccinated