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    Home > Childhood Immunisation > Vaccine Preventable Diseases  > Pneumococcal Disease

Pneumococcal Disease

This page provides a brief summary of the disease and the vaccine that is available to prevent it. Links to more detailed information are provided at the bottom of the page.

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This page provides a brief summary of the disease and the vaccine that is available to prevent it. Links to more detailed information are provided at the bottom of the page.

What is pneumococcal disease?

Pneumococcal disease is an infection caused by the bacteria Streptococcus pneumoniae. It is a major cause of illness and death, particularly amongst the very young, the very old, those who have an absent or non-functioning spleen, or those with weakened immunity. There are over 90 different types of pneumococcal bacteria.

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What infections are caused by pneumococcal bacteria?

Pneumococcal bacteria can cause localised infections such as middle ear infections or they can invade the body and cause more serious diseases, such as pneumonia (infection of the lungs), meningitis (inflammation of the lining around the brain), and septicaemia (blood poisoning). These types of infection are referred to as invasive pneumococcal disease (IPD).

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How serious is pneumococcal disease?

Invasive pneumococcal disease (IPD) is a very serious disease. It is a major cause of illness and death, particularly amongst the very young, the very old, those who have an absent or non-functioning spleen, or those with weakened immunity. It is a major cause of pneumonia in the community.

Pneumococcal disease also causes:

  • Sinusitis
  • Meningitis
  • Bronchitis
  • Osteomyelitis
  • Ear infection
  • Septicaemia

Of those who become infected 1 in 3 will develop pneumonia, 1 in 3 will develop meningitis, and 1 in 10 will die. 

Over the years Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria have become resistant to many antibiotics making the treatment of pneumococcal infection much more difficult.

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How do people get pneumococcal disease?

Bacteria are spread from person to person by coughing, sneezing or close contact. The bacteria can be carried in the nose and throat without doing any harm but sometimes they can invade the lungs and bloodstream causing pneumonia, septicaemia and meningitis.

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Who is at risk of pneumococcal disease?

Everybody is at risk of getting pneumococcal disease but older people and very young children are most at risk from infection. Particularly at risk are people who are already ill, have no spleen or have a weakened immune system;

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How can pneumococcal disease be prevented?

Pneumococcal disease can be prevented by vaccination.

Over the years Streptococcus pneumoniae has become resistant to many medications making the treatment of pneumococcal infections much more difficult. Prevention of disease through vaccination is now more important than ever.

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Which pneumococcal vaccines are recommended in Ireland?

There are two different pneumococcal vaccines to prevent pneumococcal infections

Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) which is given to all babies as part of the routine childhood immunisation schedule. This vaccine protects babies against the 13 most common types of pneumococcal disease.

Pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPV23) which is for those aged 65 years and older and those over 2 years with long term medical conditions.

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Who should be vaccinated with PCV Pneumococcal vaccine?

  • All babies should be vaccinated with PCV Pneumococcal vaccine as part of their routine childhood immunisations at 2, 6 and 12 months.
  • Also PCV Pneumococcal vaccine should be given to those under 5 years with;
    • Diabetes
    • Chronic heart, respiratory or liver disease
    • Chronic renal disease, nephrotic syndrome, renal transplant
    • Sickle cell disease
    • Missing or non functioning spleens
    • Disorders of the immune system including cancer
    • Receiving chemotherapy or other treatments that suppress the immune system
    • HIV infection or AIDS
    • Those who have received or are about to receive cochlear transplants

PCV vaccination is not routinely recommended for those over 5 years of age. It is however recommended for children aged 5 - 18 years who are at higher risk of pneumococcal infection.

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Who should not receive the PCV Pneumococcal vaccine?

PCV vaccination is not recommended for those over 5 years of age

The PCV vaccine is safe for most people. However, you should not get this vaccine if you have had a true allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to a previous dose or to any part of the vaccine.

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How effective is the PCV pneumococcal vaccine?

PCV is a very effective vaccine and protects against up to 80% of pneumococcal bacteria that cause IPD. Since the introduction of PCV into the routine childhood immunisation schedule we have already seen a considerable reduction in the number of cases of IPD.

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What are the potential side effects of the vaccine?

After getting the vaccine, your child may be sore, swollen or red around the area where the injection was given. They may be irritable and have a fever. If this happens you can give them paracetamol or ibuprofen. You should also give them plenty to drink. Make sure they are not too warm and that their clothes are not rubbing against the injection area.

  • 1 in 10 people who get the vaccine will have discomfort or swelling where the vaccine was given.
  • 1 in 10 may get a fever.
  • Vomiting, diarrhoea, decreased appetite may occur.

Serious side effects are very uncommon.

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Where can I find out more?

You can ask for further information regarding immunisation from your G.P., Public Health Nurse or local health office.

The pneumococcal vaccine parent information leaflet is available for download here. It is also available in the following languages English, Irish, Arabic, Simplified Chinese, French, German, Portuguese, Polish, Russian and Romanian.

 

In addition the links below provide some more detailed information

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This section was updated on 29th January 2013
Health Protection Surveillance Centre The Department of Health and Children Irish College Of General Practitioner