A middle aged woman holding a young child.

This potentially serious bacterial infection usually affects the very young and the elderly. 

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 a healthcare professional 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 older adults 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 a healthcare professional.

Prevention and Treatment Options

  • Children and Adults

    Practicing good hygiene can help to protect against illness and the spread of germs:

    • covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze with a tissue or into your upper sleeve or elbow
    • wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
    • if no water is available use an alcohol-based hand-rub

    The risk of pneumococcal disease can be reduced through immunisation.

    Treatment for pneumococcal infection may include antibiotics, bed rest, pain and fever reducing medication and drinking plenty of fluids. Hospitalisation may be required depending on the severity of the disease.

    Please speak to a healthcare professional for more information about pneumococcal disease prevention and treatment options.

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PM-AU-AVX-WCNT-190043 Date of GSK Approval: January 2021