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What is pneumococcal disease?

Page last updated 11 July 2018

Pneumococcal disease is a serious and highly contagious disease, and prior to widespread vaccination programs, was a leading cause of serious illness and death among Australian children under 2 years of age and persons over 85 years of age. 

Pneumococcal disease is not a single illness, but depending on the part of the body the bacteria has infected, the disease can cause a range of different illnesses. For example: 

  • Infection of the sinuses - sinusitis. 

Symptoms may include blocked nose, yellow-green nasal mucus, pressure in the face or head, and headache.

  • Infection of middle ear infection - otitis media. 

Symptoms may include pain in the inner ear, hearing loss, high temperature, nausea and vomiting

  • Inflammation of the lung - pneumonia. 

Symptoms may include fever, cough, chest pains and breathing problems, such as shortness of breath.


Pneumococcal disease is a leading cause of pneumonia in adults 65 years of age or over. Older adults can especially be at higher risk of death from this disease.

And in less common cases

  • Infection of the blood - bacteraemia. 

Symptoms may include fever, headache and muscular aches and pains. 

  • Infection of the joints - septic arthritis. 

Symptoms may include joint pain, swelling and reduced mobility of the joint.

  • Infection of the bone - osteomyelitis. 

Symptoms may include bone pain, reduced mobility of the affected part and fever.

  • Inflammation of the membranes that enclose the brain and spinal cord – meningitis. 

Symptoms may include high fever, headache, stiff neck, nausea and vomiting, and sometimes coma. 


As the bacteria live in the back of the throat, the disease is spread through coughing and sneezing. Treatment is generally given through antibiotics and symptom relief (such as paracetamol) to control fever.

For more information regarding pneumococcal disease and its prevention, speak with your healthcare professional. 

Sources & Citations

  1. NSW Government. Department of Health. Pneumococcal disease fact sheet. Available at (accessed 29th April 2018).
  2. The Australian Immunisation Handbook 10th Edition. Chapter 4.13 Pneumococcal disease. Available at (accessed 29th April 2018).

SPANZ.SAPAS.18.05.0200a - Date of preparation May 2018