Pneumococcal disease refers to all bacterial infections caused by Pneumococcus or Streptococcus pneumonia. Infections caused by Pneumococcus affect various body parts such as the sinuses, ears and can invade various body systems to cause septicaemia and Pneumonia. Fortunately, various vaccines are available to prevent pneumococcal diseases.
Understanding Pneumococcal disease
Pneumococcal disease refers to an infection caused by a bacterium known as Streptococcus pneumonia also referred to as pneumococcus. Many people have Streptococcal pneumonia in their throats and noses but the bacteria do not cause any notable symptoms. Unfortunately, the bacteria may grow and move to other body systems and that is when it can make you sick.
The bacteria cause various types of severe infections that can affect the brain, ears, sinuses, and lungs. Infections resulting from Streptococcal bacteria can be fatal and may cause:
- Septicaemia, which is a blood infection
- Meningitis – infection and inflammation of the brain meninges
The symptoms evident in Pneumococcal infection vary based on the infected body parts. These symptoms are as follows:
- Fever, hearing loss, and sore ears (Infection of the middle ear)
- The nasal blockage, swollen face, yellow-green mucus, and headache (sinus infection)
- Coma, high-grade fever, headache, stiff neck, nausea and vomiting (spinal and brain infection)
- Difficulty in breathing, chest pain, cough, and fever (lung infection)
- Muscle pains and aches, headache and fever (septicaemia)
- Pain, stiffness in the joints, and swelling (joint infection)
- Fever, stiffness, and bone pain (bone infection)
Pneumococcus is known to cause various infections in which some are severe and life-threatening.
Streptococcal pneumonia is the primary cause of pneumonia, middle ear infections, septicaemia, and meningitis in children.
You may be familiar with pneumonia which is a lung infection. Pneumonia can be caused by various viruses, fungi, and bacteria. Severe pneumonia is mainly caused by Streptococcal pneumonia.
Physicians argue that many of these pneumococcal infections are invasive. An invasive infection implies that the bacteria spread to other parts of the body where there are no such bacteria. For instance, Streptococcal pneumonia may enter the bloodstream and cause bacteraemia and the cerebral spinal fluids and meninges surrounding the spine and brain leading to meningitis. If this occurs, infection is mainly life-threatening that needs hospitalization and timely treatment since it can even lead to death.
Modes of transmission
Pneumococcal infections spread in the flowing ways:
Coughing or sneezing of an infected person and you inhale the droplets
When infected by pneumococcal disease, you can prevent the spread by:
Regular hand washing
Covering your sneezes and coughs
Pneumococcal immunisation program
Pneumococcal vaccination is administered via an injection alone and not a combination vaccine. The vaccines are given by different certified immunisation services providers. If you meet the eligibility criteria, you may acquire the vaccine without incurring any cost through the National Immunisation Program.
Why is vaccination against pneumococcal disease important?
The pneumococcal disease comes as a result of bacterial infections. The disease is mainly life-threatening to older people and children. It causes septicaemia, pneumonia, and meningitis (infection of membranes covering the spine and brain).
Getting a vaccine is the safest and most effective approach to prevent pneumococcal disease.
Receiving the pneumococcal vaccine will also assist in protecting others mainly the population that is too young to receive the vaccine. Vaccinating many people in your society means that there will be reduced chances of the disease spreading.
Who should be immunised against pneumococcal disease?
People who wish to protect themselves against pneumococcal infections can consult their physicians to get the immunisation.
Pneumococcal vaccine is recommended for:
- Children and infants below 5 years
- Non-native adults with or above 70 years with no pneumococcal disease medical risk
- Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal children below 5 years residing in Western Australia, Northern Territory, Queensland, and South Australia.
- Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal adults at with the age of 50 years and above with no medical risk associated with pneumococcal disease.
- Infants below 12 months found to have specific pneumococcal health risk conditions
- People below 12 years without pneumococcal health risk conditions
A pneumococcal vaccine exists in two types offered through the National Immunisation Program (NIP) to various circumstances and age groups.
- Every child at the age of 2, 4, and 12 months totalling to 3 doses
- An additional dose when at six months for Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal children living in South Australia, Queensland, Western Australia, and Northern Territory added to the other 3 doses for every child leading to a total of 4 doses.
- Children below 12 months with medical conditions putting them at a higher risk of developing severe pneumococcal infections (a total of six doses for several years)
- All Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal residents at age of 50 years or above (a total of 3 doses)
- All non-Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal people aged 70 years and above (1 dose)
- All those who are 12 months and above with medical conditions which predispose them to a greater risk of developing severe pneumococcal infections (a total of 3 doses)
- What are the most likely pneumococcal vaccine adverse effects?
- All vaccines and medications come with side effects. Some are serious while most of them are not.
To many people, the likelihood of developing adverse effects from the vaccination is much less than the likelihood of severe harm if you get the disease.
Discuss with your physician about the probable adverse effects that result from the pneumococcal vaccine or when the child experiences symptoms moment after getting vaccinated against the pneumococcal disease.
Common mild adverse effects associated with the pneumococcal vaccine are:
- Swelling, redness, and pain at the injection site
- Body aches
- Loss of appetite
How effective is the pneumococcal vaccine?
- Vaccines that assist in preventing pneumococcal infections are effective although they may not offer protection in all cases.
- Research indicates that a minimum of 1 pneumococcal conjugate vaccine dose protects
- A minimum of 8 in every 10 infants from severe infections of invasive pneumococcal diseases
- 75 in every 100 adults with the age of 65 years or above from invasive pneumococcal disease
- 45 in every 100 adults at the age of 65 years or above against pneumococcal pneumonia
- Research also indicates that 1 pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine dose protects
- About 50 to 85 in every 100 adults from invasive pneumococcal disease
Where can the vaccines be found?
The office of your healthcare experts is usually the best setting to take your children to get the recommended vaccine doses.
The pneumococcal conjugate vaccine remains a critical aspect of the usual childhood immunization schedule. Thus, it is normally availed for children at:
- Public health offices
- Pediatric offices
- Community health hospitals
- Family health clinics
If your physician may not get the pneumococcal vaccine for adults, you may request for a referral.
- Pneumococcal vaccines meant for an adult can be found at:
Community health departments
Other essential locations in the community such as religious centres and schools