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Pneumococcal Disease is deadly

The World Health Organization (WHO) states that pneumococcal disease is the world’s number 1 vaccine-preventable cause of death among infants and children younger than 5 years of age.

Pneumococcal disease is a leading cause of serious illness among Australian children under two years of age and persons over 65 years of age. The rates are higher among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, especially in central Australia.

Immunisation can reduce the risk of infection, especially in young children, where it is on the routine vaccine schedule.

Pneumococcal disease is also an important cause of pneumonia in adults 65 years of age or over. Older people are especially at risk of death from this disease. It is estimated to kill around one million people worldwide every year.

While pneumococcal disease can occur at any time, infections seem to be more common during winter and spring. Young children, older people and people with impaired immune systems and chronic diseases are among the most susceptible.

Streptococcus pneumoniae can cause a range of illnesses, depending on which part of the body is infected. These include:

  • Sinusitis – infection of the sinuses (air-filled cavities in the face). Symptoms include aching face, blocked nose, yellow-green nasal mucus and headache
  • Otitis media – middle ear infection. Symptoms include painful ear, hearing loss, high temperature, nausea and vomiting
  • Bacteraemia – bacteria invade the blood. Symptoms include fever, headache and muscular aches and pains. This is a very serious condition
  • Septic arthritis – joint infection. Symptoms include joint pain, swelling and reduced movement of the joint
  • Osteomyelitis – bone infection. Symptoms include bone pain, reduced movement of the affected part and fever
  • Pneumonia – lung infection.  Symptoms include fever, cough, chest pains and breathing problems, such as shortness of breath
  • Meningitis – infection of the lining around the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms may include high fever, headache, stiff neck, nausea and vomiting, and sometimes coma. Pneumococcal meningitis is extremely serious and has a high death rate.