Pneumococcal disease is an illness caused by infection with the bacterium (‘germ’) Streptococcus pneumoniae.
These germs often live harmlessly in the throats of healthy people, particularly children, without causing illness. However, if they spread to other areas of the body, they may cause potentially deadly illnesses.
Pneumococcal disease is a leading cause of serious illness among Australian children under two years of age and persons over 65 years of age. It is a frequent cause of death in the elderly. The rates are higher among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, especially in central Australia.
Pneumococcal infection is an important and common cause of middle ear infection, but may also cause pneumonia, meningitis infection of the lining of the brain), and septicaemia (‘blood poisoning’).
Pneumococcal meningitis and pneumococcal septicaemia are both forms of ‘Invasive Pneumococcal Disease’ (IPD).
There are at least 90 different strains of Streptococcus pneumoniae. Some these are regular causes of IPD in Australia. Immunisation against these strains greatly reduces the risk of disease. Vaccines are available to help protect against the strains that cause most disease.