What are pneumococcal infections?
Pneumococcal infections are caused by the bacterium Streptococcus pneumoniae and can lead to pneumonia, septicaemia (a kind of blood poisoning) and meningitis. At their worst, they can cause permanent brain damage, or even kill.
The pneumococcal vaccine protects against serious and potentially fatal pneumococcal infections. It’s also known as the “pneumo jab” or pneumonia vaccine.
What are the symptoms of pneumococcal infection?
Symptoms vary according to the type of infection you have.
Common symptoms include:
- chills and sweats
- aches and pains
- generally feeling unwell
Seek medical attention as soon as possible if you:
- a constantly high temperature lasting for more than 3 days
- see blood in your mucus when you cough
- develop rapid breathing (more than 30 breaths a minute) or chest pains
- become confused or drowsy
- feel shortness of breath or have other breathing difficulties.
You should also contact your GP as soon as possible if your child is:
- under 3 months old and has a temperature of 38C or above
- between 3 and 6 months old and has a temperature of 39C or above
- over 2 years of age and has symptoms persisting for more than 3 days.
If you have any risk factors that make you more vulnerable to pneumococcal infection you should also contact your GP.
How are pneumococcal infections transmitted?
Pneumococcal infections spread in similar ways to colds and the flu. Coughs and sneezes release droplets of fluid containing the bacteria into the air, which others breathe in. The bacteria can also be spread indirectly, for example by touching door handles or other objects contaminated with the fluid and then touching your nose or mouth.
What is the transmission seasonality?
Outbreaks of pneumococcal infections can sometimes occur in environments where there are many people who have poorly functioning immune systems, such as in children’s nurseries, care homes for the elderly and homeless shelters.
What are the infected areas in the world?
Pneumococcal infections such as pneumonia, meningitis, and bloodstream infection are a major cause of disease worldwide. They are responsible for up to 20 percent of deaths in childhood, mainly in developing countries.
What is a pneumococcal vaccine certificate?
A pneumococcal vaccine certificate shows you have been vaccinated against pneumococcal infections.
Are pneumococcal infections curable?
Most people with non-invasive pneumococcal infections, for example bronchitis or sinusitis, will recover within a week without treatment. Drinking fluids, resting up and taking over-the-counter painkillers can help relieve symptoms.
An invasive pneumococcal infection, such as pneumonia, may need hospital treatment, and you should see your GP for that decision to be made.
How can you prevent pneumococcal infections?
You can lower your risk of pneumococcal infections by practising good hygiene.
- wash your hands often and thoroughly with soap and water, especially before handling food and after touching your nose and mouth
- catch your coughs and sneezes in a tissue, and throw it away immediately before washing your hands.
- share cups or kitchen utensils with others.
There is also a very effective vaccine against pneumococcal infections, for adults and children.
All children are offered vaccination by the NHS, which consists of three injections given at 8 weeks, 16 weeks and 1 year of age.
Who should get the pneumococcal vaccine?
The NHS advises 4 groups of people to get vaccinated against pneumococcal infections:
- people aged 65 and over
- people aged 2 to 65 who have a long-term health condition, such as heart or respiratory disease or kidney or liver disease
- anyone at risk of infection at work, for example welders.
Who should not get the pneumococcal vaccine?
The vaccine is not recommended for anyone who has had a severe allergic reaction to a dose of this vaccine or related vaccines, or any vaccine containing diphtheria toxoid (for example, DTaP).
If you are allergic to any ingredients of the vaccine you should not get the vaccine and inform your healthcare provider of any allergies.
If you’re feeling unwell on the day of the vaccination, your healthcare provider may recommend you postpone the vaccine until you have recovered.
What is the minimum age requirement for the pneumococcal vaccine?
Immunisation can begin from 8 weeks old.
What is the effectiveness of the pneumococcal vaccine?
According to the NHS, the pneumococcal vaccine is 50-70% effective at protecting against pneumococcal infections.
What are the side effects of the pneumococcal vaccine?
The side effects of the vaccine vary according to the age of the recipient.
The pneumococcal vaccination for children is entirely safe, although around one child in 10 will have some redness and swelling at the site of the injection, and symptoms of a mild fever. However, these side effects will pass quickly.
In babies, mild side effects include:
- reduced appetite
- slightly raised temperature
- problems sleeping
- redness, hardness or swelling at the site of the injection
Serious side effects are rare and include:
- high temperature, sometimes leading to convulsions or fits (febrile seizures)
- itchy skin rash
The side effects in adults and older children include:
- soreness or hardness at the site of the injection for up to 3 days
- slightly raised temperature
Call your GP if you notice any unusual symptoms in your baby or yourself after being vaccinated.
How many jabs are needed?
Babies receive the pneumococcal vaccine as three separate injections, at 8 weeks, 16 weeks and 1 year old.
People over 65 require only a single pneumococcal jab, which protects for life.
If you have a long-term health condition you may require a single dose, or a dose every 5 years, depending on your underlying health problem.
When and where was the last outbreak of pneumococcal infection?
Outbreaks of pneumococcal infections can sometimes occur where there are many people with poorly functioning immune systems, for example nurseries, care homes and homeless shelters.