The Pneumococcus bacteria usually lives harmlessly in the nose and throat of healthy people, especially young children (up to half of young children in winter). In some people (particularly those at increased risk), the Pneumococcus bacteria invades the body or blood stream causing pneumococcal disease.
The pneumococcal germ passes from one person to another in droplets from the upper throat or nose. These get spread directly when someone with the germ in their throat sneezes or coughs close to someone else. It may also be possible to spread it by kissing and from contaminated objects, such as toys.
Most of the time, this doesn’t cause any illness. However, vulnerable people may develop pneumococcal disease. The immune system is unable to keep the bacteria in check, which then multiply out of control and spread to other areas of the body.
Pneumococcal disease occurs most commonly in the colder months in Australia. Young children who have higher rates of carriage and don’t always cover c their mouth when sneezing or coughing are more likely to can pass the bacteria on to the elderly or those with specific risk factors.
When people do get sick with pneumococcal disease, it is rarely possible to be sure where or how they caught their infection.