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Pneumococcal Pneumonia

Pneumococcal disease is caused by the bacteria Streptococcus pneumoniae, also called pneumococcus. Pneumococcus can cause many types of infections; some may lead to severe illness or death. Pneumococcus is one of the most common causes of severe pneumonia.

a digital representation of human lungs

People at high risk for pneumococcal disease include:

  • Adults age 65 years or older
  • Persons with certain chronic illnesses or conditions
  • Smokers
  • Very young children

Pneumonia is an infection of one or both lungs from bacteria, viruses, fungi or even a parasite. Signs include fever, chills, coughing, fatigue, rapid breathing, and shortness of breath or chest pain. Pneumonia caused by pneumococcus is called pneumococcal pneumonia.

Pneumococcal pneumonia is the most common type of pneumococcal disease in adults. It occurs in about 175,000 Americans each year. It causes thousands hospitalizations and over 10,000 deaths each year in the U. S.

How it spreads

When a person with pneumococcal pneumonia sneezes, coughs, talks, or laughs, pneumococcal bacteria can spread into the air as droplets. The droplets can spread to people and on surfaces within 6 feet.

Pneumococcal bacteria can spread to your hands if you touch anything that has pneumococcal bacteria on it. If you then touch your eyes, nose or mouth, you might get the bacteria in your system which could cause you to get an infection from it.

People living close together can get pneumococcal pneumonia or it can happen during or after a stay in a healthcare facility.

Treatment

Follow treatment as directed by your health care provider. Your health care provider may prescribe antibiotics. Always finish antibiotics.

Some people can be treated at home, but many people will need treatment in a hospital.

How to prevent pneumococcal infections

  • Getting a pneumococcal vaccination (shot) is the best way to prevent severe infection due to pneumococcus. Ask your health care provider about whether you should get a pneumococcal vaccination, and if so, which vaccine you should receive.
  • Having the flu increases your chances of getting pneumococcal pneumonia. Get a flu shot every year.
  • Avoid people who have flu or pneumonia.
  • Clean hands often.
  • Keep hands away from your face, eyes, and mouth.
  • Cover coughs and sneezes.
  • Stay home when sick and limit contact with other people.

Keep up-to-date with all your vaccinations. Review your records with your health care providers.

Pneumococcal vaccine

There are 2 types of pneumococcal vaccine. Ask your health care provider about your options based on your age, medical conditions, and any past vaccinations. Some people are recommended to receive both and others need only PPSV23.

Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine (PCV13)Pneumococcal Polysaccharide Vaccine (PPSV23)
Protects against 13 types of pneumococcal bacteria. Protects against 23 types of pneumococcal bacteria.

One-time dose for adults age 19 years or older who have:

  • Cerebro-spinal fluid leaks
  • Cochlear implants
  • Sickle cell disease or other red blood cell disorders
  • Had their spleen removed or were born without a spleen
  • Medical conditions that weaken the immune system such as HIV infection, chronic kidney disease, leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease, multiple myeloma, or some cancers
  • Had an organ transplant or are taking chemotherapy, long-term steroids, or radiation therapy

Not a yearly vaccination, but depending on age and medical conditions, some people may need 2 or 3 PPSV23 vaccinations in their lifetime.

Recommended for all adults age 65 years or older. Also recommended for adults age 19 through 64 years who have:

  • Chronic heart, kidney, lung, or liver disease, or who smoke cigarettes, or abuse alcohol
  • Diabetes
  • Cerebro-spinal fluid leaks
  • Cochlear implants
  • Sickle cell disease or other red blood cell disorders
  • Had their spleen removed or were born without a spleen
  • Medical conditions that weaken the immune system such as HIV infection, leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin's disease, multiple myeloma, or some cancers
  • Had an organ transplant or are taking chemotherapy, long-term steroids, or radiation therapy
People who receive a PCV13 vaccination also need one or more PPSV23 vaccinations, but others are recommended the PPSV23 vaccine only.  

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