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Immunizations: Pneumococcal Disease (Streptococcus Pneumoniae)

Bacteria infection: Streptococcus pneumoniae.

Pneumococcal [noo-muh-KOK-uhl] disease is a name for any infection caused by bacteria called Streptococcus pneumoniae.

The bacteria usually cause mild illness, such as ear and sinus infections.

They also can cause much more serious conditions, like infections of the lungs (pneumonia), blood (sepsis), and brain (meningitis).

Vaccines can prevent pneumococcal disease

The best way to prevent pneumococcal disease is to get vaccinated.

Learn more about pneumococcal vaccines

Pneumococcal disease 101

Streptococcus pneumoniae spreads from person to person through droplets in the air. An infected person can spread the disease by coughing or sneezing. Many people, especially children, carry the bacteria in their nose and throat without getting sick. They can still spread the bacteria to others.

The bacteria can spread from the nose and throat to attack different parts of the body. Streptococcus pneumoniae is one of the most common causes of bacterial pneumonia, a lung infection.

When these bacteria spread to places in the body that are normally sterile, it’s called “invasive” pneumococcal disease. Sterile parts of the body are where germs aren’t normally found. They are deeper in the body and more protected from outside infection. This includes the blood, spinal fluid, and brain. Health experts don’t know why the disease becomes invasive for some people and not for others.

Anyone can get pneumococcal disease, but some people are at higher risk, such as:

  • Babies.
  • Children under 5 years old.
  • Adults 65 years and older.
  • People with weakened immune systems like asthma, sickle cell disease, HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) infection, or diabetes.

If you’re at increased risk for pneumococcal disease, talk to your doctor about which pneumococcal vaccines you need and when.

There are many types of pneumococcal disease, including:

  • Ear infection.
  • Sinus infection.
  • Pneumonia (infection in the lungs).
  • Sepsis (infection of the blood).
  • Meningitis (infection of the tissues that cover the brain and spinal cord).

People with pneumococcal disease have different symptoms depending on the part of the body affected.

Learn more about the symptoms for these pneumococcal infections

It’s important to get treatment right away if you think you or your child might have a pneumococcal infection. Doctors use antibiotics to treat pneumococcal disease.

Unfortunately, many pneumococcal bacteria are becoming resistant to commonly used antibiotics. These germs aren’t killed, and they continue to grow. This makes it hard to treat the infection.

It’s best to prevent pneumococcal infections through vaccination, rather than depend on antibiotic treatment after getting infected.

Vaccines are the best way to prevent pneumococcal disease.

There are two safe and effective pneumococcal vaccines available in the United States:

  • Pneumococcal conjugate vaccines (PCV13, PCV15, or PCV20)
  • Pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23)

All children younger than 2 years old and all adults 65 years or older should get vaccinated. Some older children and other adults also should get pneumococcal vaccines. Young children, older adults, and people with certain medical conditions are at greatest risk of serious illness and death. Some groups need multiple doses of the vaccine for the best protection.

The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommends:

  • All children younger than 2 years old should get four doses of PCV 13.
  • Children 2–18 years old with certain medical conditions should get PCV 13 and PPSV23.
  • Adults 19–64 years old with certain medical conditions or other risk factors and adults 65 years or older:
    • Should get PCV15 or PCV20, if they never received a pneumococcal conjugate vaccine.
    • Also should get a dose of PPSV23, if PCV15 was used.

It’s important to get an influenza vaccine every year because having the flu increases your chance of getting pneumococcal disease.

Find out if you and your children are up to date on vaccines. Check our Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) Wisconsin Immunization Registry.

If you’re worried about cost, your family may be eligible for free vaccines. Read about our Vaccines For Children and Vaccines For Adults programs.

Just for health care providers

Pneumococcal disease is communicable. Health care providers must report cases of pneumococcal disease.

Pneumococcal disease is a Wisconsin Disease Surveillance Category II disease

Report a recognized case to the patient’s local public health department. Within 72 hours, submit a case report through one of the following:

Read more about required disease reporting in Wisconsin.

Case reporting and public health guidelines

Contact us

Last revised November 14, 2023