Pneumococcal disease is caused by the bacterium Streptococcus pneumoniae, which is also known as pneumococcus. It causes diseases such as meningitis (membrane infection of the brain and spinal cord), septicaemia (blood infection), pneumonia (lung infection) and otitis media (middle ear infection). Meningitis and septicaemia are known as invasive pneumococcal disease (IPD).
Small droplets from the nose and throat can contain the pneumococcus bacteria and be spread through coughing and sneezing. The bacteria can be found in people without any symptoms, who can still spread the infection.
Signs and symptoms
Symptoms depend on where the infection is in the body.
For pneumonia, symptoms include:
- shortness of breath and chest pain.
Meningitis symptoms include headaches, fever, confusion and excessive tiredness (fatigue and sleepiness).
Vaccination recommendations and coverage
Routine pneumococcal vaccination is funded under the National Immunisation Program for all Australian children aged 2, 4 and 12 months.
Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children in the Northern Territory, South Australia, Western Australia and Queensland are offered an additional dose of vaccine at 6 months.
Children with chronic health conditions should also receive a booster dose at 4–5 years of age.
In 2019, coverage of this additional dose for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children varied across states, from 53.1% (Qld) to 92.6% (NT).
Who is most affected?
Anyone can get IPD; however, the risk is greatest among:
- young children
- elderly people.
How common is it?
In 2016–2019, 7872 notifications of IPD were reported, with 916 of these (11.6%) reported as being in Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people. Notification rates were significantly higher among Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people in all age groups.
In Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people, the highest notification rates were observed in children aged less than 5 years (33 per 100,000), adults aged 24–29 years (32 per 100,000) and those aged over 50 years (65 per 100,000).
Hospitalisation data for IPD are not presented due to difficulties in identifying cases using discharge diagnosis codes. There were 218 deaths reported in Australia in the 2016–2019 period where pneumococcal disease was recorded as the underlying or associated cause, of which 9 (4.1%) were recorded as being in Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people.