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What is pneumococcal disease?

Page last updated 03 July 2020

Pneumococcal disease refers to the group of illnesses that can be caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae bacterium commonly known as pneumococcus. 



Most pneumococcal infections are mild, however some can cause serious disease, complications and even death.


From the upper airways, pneumococcus can cause infections in different parts of the body, such as the ear (otitis media, one of the most common pneumococcal diseases in children), sinuses, joints or bone. Sometimes it causes serious illness like:

  • meningitis (infection of the lining of the brain)
  • pneumonia (infection of the lungs – one of the most common pneumococcal diseases in adults)
  • bacteraemia (presence of bacteria in the blood)


In adults, pneumonia with bacteraemia accounts for 14% of cases of pneumonia in the community.


In children, middle ear infection is a common complication. In fact pneumococcus is the main cause of middle ear infection in children, found in around 50% of cases. Although the least common presentation in children, pneumococcal meningitis (infection of the lining of the brain) is a serious complication, which is fatal in around 30% of cases.


Sources & Citations

2. Victoria State Government. Better Health Channel. Pneumococcal disease. Available at: (accessed 17 March 2020).

3. Australian Government. Department of Health. The Australian Immunisation Handbook -Pneumococcal disease. Available at: (accessed 23 June 2020).

4. Yin JL et al. Med J Aust 2017;207(9):396–400.

5. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. Pneumococcal disease. Clinical features. Available at: (accessed 17 March 2020).

SPANZ.SAPAS.18.05.0200(1) - Date of preparation April 2020