Streptococcus pneumoniae, also known as pneumococcus, is a bacterium that typically lives in the nasopharynx of healthy human bodies. While pneumococcus may not affect a healthy person, she can carry the bacterium, and it can be transmitted from one person to another through sneezing, coughing, and direct contact with an infected individual. Pneumococcus can cause severe or life-threatening infections in certain people.
While pneumococcus doesn’t always affect a healthy person, it can cause some serious infections in children, seniors, and people who are immunocompromised. Specifically, pneumococcus can cause sinus infections, bacteremia (bloodstream infection), ear infections, meningitis (infection of the covering around the spinal cord and brain), and pneumonia. Some of these infections are considered invasive diseases because the germs invade areas of the body that are usually free from them.
Pneumonia is the most common disease caused by pneumococcus. Symptoms of pneumonia include shaking, chills, chest pain, sudden fever, shortness of breath, weakness, coughing, and rapid breathing and heartbeat. Complications of pneumococcal pneumonia may include pericarditis (inflammation of the sac surrounding the heart), empyema (infection of the pleural space), and respiratory failure. Pneumonia can be fatal. Fatalities occur most often in seniors.
Who Should Get the Pneumococcal Vaccine?
Infants should receive four doses of the pneumococcal vaccine. One dose of the vaccine is typically given at two, four, six, and 12-15 months of age. If you have a child five years of age of younger, and he did not receive this vaccine series, talk to your child’s pediatrician about getting the vaccine for your child. Your child may receive one or two doses of the vaccine, depending on his age.
If you are 65 years of age or older, it is recommended that you get the pnuemococcal vaccine. Additionally, children and adults aged five to 64 years old with certain medical conditions should receive the vaccine. These medical conditions include sickle cell disease, HIV infection or AIDS, leukemia, cerebral spinal fluid leaks, chronic renal failure, anatomical or functional asplenia, Hodgkin disease, multiple myeloma, generalized malignancy, nephrotic syndrome, congenital or acquired immunodeficiency, diabetes, asthma, or heart disease.
You should also receive the vaccine if you have had an organ transplant, have cochlear implants, or have received long-term immunosuppressive therapy. Individuals two to 64 years of age who are on medication or treatment that lowers the body’s ability to fight infections, such as long-term steroids, cancer drugs, and radiation therapy should receive the vaccine. Finally, if you are 19 to 64 years old and smoke, you should consider getting the vaccine as well.
What is the Efficacy and Safety of the Vaccine?
Pneumococcal vaccine is effective at significantly lowering the risk for developing a pneumococcal invasive disease, such as pneumonia, meningitis, and bacteremia. Side effects of the vaccine may include redness and pain at the injection site, fever, muscle aches, fatigue, and headache. Though rare with any vaccination, serious, life-threatening allergic reactions to the pneumococcal vaccine can occur. If your face or throat swells, you have difficulty breathing, wheezing, coughing, vomiting, diarrhea, increased heart rate, hives, or pale skin, seek immediate medical attention, as these could be signs of a severe allergic reaction.
If you are a senior, immunocompromised, or the parent of a young child, please talk with your doctor about the pneumococcal vaccine. Your doctor will be able to give you more information about the vaccine and discuss whether it’s right for you.