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Pneumococcal Disease

1 Feb 2006 10:17 PM - Dr Roger Morris

Pneumococcal disease is a potentially life-threatening group of infections that occur most frequently in children under two years of age and in the elderly. Many people have the pneumococcal bacteria (called ‘Streptococcus pneumoniae') living in their nasal cavity without it causing any problems at all. Some strains may be potentially life-threatening in susceptible individuals, and cause meningitis (infection of the brain lining and spinal fluid), septicaemia (blood poisoning) and pneumonia (lung tissue infection). In children, middle ear infection is the most common but less serious form of pneumococcal disease. The bacteria are spread in droplets shed from the mouth or nose through coughing, sneezing or contact with articles that have been contaminated with infected droplets. Pneumococcal disease can occur at any time of the year, although infections are more common during winter and spring. While both can cause meningitis and septicaemia, pneumococcal disease is different (and more common) than meningococcal disease. Vaccination against meningococcal disease will not protect against pneumococcal disease.

Infants born from the 1st January 2005 are eligible to receive free pneumococcal vaccine (‘Prevenar'®) at 2, 4 and 6 months of age along with other standard vaccines scheduled at the time. Children born from the 1st January 2003 to the 31st December 2004 are eligible for free pneumococcal vaccine through a catch-up program that will run during 2005. Children in specific high-risk groups require extra doses which are also provided for free. See your local GP for more information.

The pneumococcal immunisation is well tolerated, with some children experiencing local swelling, redness and soreness at the injection site. Other rare side effects include low grade fever, restlessness or irritability. Even more rarely, children may experience vomiting, decreased appetite or diarrhoea. Severe reactions are very rare.

For more information, talk to your local GP, contact the ‘Immunisation Infoline' on 1800 671 811 or the ‘Immunise Australia Program' website at http://www.immunise.health.gov.au/ .

Source: ‘National Childhood Pneumococcal Vaccination Program', Immunise Australia Program, Dept of Health & Aging, 2005.