Pneumococcal Disease is caused by the common bacteria Streptococcus pneumoniae, and is easily spread between people in close contact. It can cause a wide variety of infections, ranging from relatively mild to fatal. It’s generally grouped into two categories;
invasive pneumococcal disease (IPD) and noninvasive disease
(also known as mucosal disease).5
Invasive pneumococcal disease (IPD) occurs when bacteria invade parts of the body such as the blood or spinal fluid. While less common than the milder form, it’s more severe and can cause potentially fatal diseases such as:
Meningitis. This is an infection of the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord which can cause swelling in the brain tissues.
Sepsis. Also known as blood poisoning, this is an infection of the bloodstream that can cause severe damage to your lungs, urinary tract, brain, and heart.
Pneumonia. This is a lung infection that inflames the air sacs of one or both lungs. While some forms can be mild and short-lived (or non-invasive), others can be more severe (when associated with blood poisoning) and are considered invasive. In fact, pneumonia has also been shown to trigger heart attacks in high-risk people. Pneumonia is the most common cause of pneumococcal death.2
Non-invasive forms of the disease generally cause milder symptoms like ear and sinus infections. However, these types can still become invasive. What’s more, the rate of IPD is growing in older adults.6
Although we refer to pneumococcus as one disease, there are multiple serotypes (or strains) of pneumococcal bacteria that can cause the infection. More than 90 different serotypes have been identified. Since not all serotypes can be included in the vaccine, the pneumococcal vaccines contain the serotypes most likely to cause severe disease, or IPD. Since other less common strains can still cause infection, receiving the vaccine does not guarantee that you will never contract pneumococcus. However, receiving the vaccine will decrease your chances of contracting the infection, and if you do become affected, the severity and complications of the infection will be minimized.