Pneumococcal disease factsheet


Pneumococcal disease refers to a number of different types of infection due to the bacteria Streptococcus pneumoniae (also called Pneumococcus).

The pneumococcus bacteria usually live harmlessly in the nose and throat of healthy people, especially young children (up to 1 in 4 children in winter). In a small number of people (particularly those at increased risk – see below for more details) these bacteria invade the body or blood stream causing pneumococcal disease.

In children less than 5 years of age, Pneumococcus is the most common bacterial cause of:

  • otitis media (middle ear infection)
  • pneumonia (lung infection) 
  • bacteraemia (infection of the blood stream)
  • meningitis (a life threatening infection of the lining of the brain).

Pneumococcal disease occurs most commonly in the colder winter months in Australia. Young children can pass the bacteria on to the elderly or those with specific risk factors.

 Signs and symptoms

The symptoms of pneumococcal disease are not specific and depend on the site of infection.

Common symptoms may include:

  • shortness of breath
  • fever
  • lack of energy
  • loss of appetite
  • headache
  • chest pain and cough
  • irritability
  • nausea and vomiting.


Your child’s doctor will be able to make a diagnosis, based on signs and symptoms your child is experiencing and/or after any appropriate examinations and tests. Tests may include a chest x-ray, and taking samples to look for bacteria in the infected part of the body.


Talk to your doctor about the best treatment for your child. This can include taking a course of antibiotics and over the counter medication to control fever and pain, and fluids to prevent dehydration.


Risk factors for Pneumococcal disease

  1. All children under 2 years of age.
  2. Children of all ages with the following risk factors. These children may require catch up vaccinations:
  • children who are of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Island descent
  • Down syndrome
  • insulin dependent diabetes
  • chronic lung disease (including cystic fibrosis)
  • heart disease (cyanotic heart disease or heart failure)
  • kidney failure or persistent nephrotic syndrome
  • absent spleen or a spleen which does not work well (including sickle cell disease)
  • weakened immune systems from disease (e.g. leukaemia, primary immunodeficiencies or HIV infection) or immune suppressive medications (e.g. high dose steroids).
  • born prematurely (less than 28 weeks gestation or with chronic lung complications)
  • Intracranial shunts
  • cochlear implants
  • leaks of CSF from trauma or surgery.

Preventing pneumococcal disease

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) now recommend a specific 13-valent conjugate pneumococcal vaccine (Prevenar) for all children less than 2 years of age and some older children with specific risk factors for pneumococcal infection. This vaccine covers 13 of the most common strains of Pneumococcus bacteria that infect children. This vaccine for children is different from the vaccine usually used in adults.

This vaccine has a number of benefits including:

  • reducing your child’s chances of getting pneumococcal bacteraemia, meningitis, pneumonia and middle ear infections
  • reducing the chance your child will need grommets by about 20%
  • may even prevent your child from spreading the Pneumococcus bacteria to "at risk" adults such as grandparents or at risk children.

Facts about the 13 valent conjugate pneumococcal vaccine for children

  • Babies less than 7 months of age should receive a total of 3 injections of the vaccine (at 2, 4 and 6 months of age along with their routine childhood vaccines).
  • Older children that have not yet been immunised with the vaccine may need less doses,
    • as their immune system is more mature (your local doctor can refer to the 10th edition NHMRC Immunisation Handbook for guidance on the exact number of doses required for your child).
    • This pneumococcal vaccine is a very safe vaccine. Approximately 1 in 10 children may develop local redness and tenderness at the injection site or a mild fever. As with all vaccines or medications, a serious allergic reaction is possible but this occurs very rarely.
    • The benefits of the vaccine greatly outweigh the risk of side effects of the vaccine.

Resources and more information

For more information about the vaccine and potential side effects visit the Immunise Australia website and discuss with your family doctor or immunisation provider.

For more information about immunisation schedules, visit the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance website.

Healthdirect provides free, trusted health information and advice, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week online or via telephone 1800 022 022. 

Last updated Thursday 18th January 2024


This factsheet is provided for general information only. It does not constitute health advice and should not be used to diagnose or treat any health condition.

Please consult with your doctor or other health professional to make sure this information is right for you and/or your child.

The Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network does not accept responsibility for inaccuracies or omissions, the interpretation of the information, or for success or appropriateness of any treatment described in the factsheet.

© Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network 2024