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Pneumococcal Disease

Pneumococcal disease is an infection caused by the bacteria Streptococcus pneumoniae. It includes meningitis and sepsis, but the most common in adults is pneumococcal pneumonia which can also be life-threatening or require hospital admission.1 While anyone can get pneumococcal pneumonia, people at certain ages or with medical conditions are at increased risk.2 Like the flu, Streptococcus pneumoniae can be spread by coughing or sneezing.3

Pneumonia is among the top ten reasons for Emergency Departments (ED) visits in Canada, with 135,000 pneumonia-related ED visits in 2018.4 Pneumonia is also common in healthy children, though immunization has decreased the incidence.4 To get the full benefits from vaccinations which protect against pneumococcal disease and other vaccine-preventable diseases, immunization schedules should be completed in full, with all doses administered in the appropriate time frame. For more information, see the Government of Canada’s routine vaccination schedules for infants/children and adults, or refer to your healthcare provider for vaccines not publically funded.

Pneumonia can worsen the symptoms of a chronic lung disease for individuals that have one.5 It can also lead to fluid around your lungs, or bacteremia (infection in your blood), which can cause infection of the brain or other organs. It may even lead to death. Pneumonia can progress quickly and cause such complications, especially among the elderly and people belonging to one of the high risk groups.6

What are the symptoms of pneumococcal disease?

Symptoms of invasive pneumococcal disease can include6:

  • High fever

  • Shaking chills

  • Coughing

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Shortness of breath

  • Chest pains

Who is at risk?

Invasive pneumococcal disease can affect all people. However, infants and children younger than 5 years of age, and people 65 years of age and older are at higher risk.6

Other factors that increase adults’ risk of contracting pneumococcal disease include7:

  • Chronic lung disease (COPD, asthma)

  • Cigarette smoking

  • Immune system problem (during cancer treatment, or due to HIV/AIDS, organ transplant or other diseases)

  • Other serious illnesses, such as heart disease, liver cirrhosis, or diabetes mellitus

Other risk factors for infants and children include:

  • Prematurity/low birth weight8

  • Asthma8

  • Chronic heart disease8

  • Chronic lung disease8

  • Attendance at childcare center9


The following steps can help protect your health, and the health of your loved ones:

  • Avoid contact with sick people; if you are sick, limit contact with others as much as possible10

  • Wash your hands regularly; wipe down frequently touched surfaces, such as door knobs

  • Cough and sneeze into a tissue or into your arm sleeve (instead of your hands)10

  • Limit exposure to cigarette smoke; stop smoking (if you smoke)10

  • Keep up with your health visits10

  • Get enough sleep, eat a healthy diet, and exercise to keep your immune system strong10

  • To help protect infants and children, vaccinate. You can also help by practicing and teaching good hygiene habits, and avoid smoke and air pollution11

  • Vaccines are not just for kids! Get vaccinated with a yearly flu shot and with vaccines against pneumococcal disease and ensure your family is vaccinated


Vaccines may not fully protect everyone who is vaccinated.

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pneumococcal Disease Fast Facts. Available at Last accessed August 2019.

  2. Public Health Agency of Canada. Canadian Immunization Guide: Part 4 – Active Vaccines. Available at Last accessed July 2019

  3. Government of Ontario. Pneumococcal Disease Fact Sheet. Available at Last accessed July 2019.

  4. Canadian Institute for Health Information. Pneumonia a leading cause of emergency department visits in Canada last year. Available at Last accessed August 2019.

  5. American Lung Association. Pneumonia Symptoms and Diagnosis. Available at Last accessed August 2019.

  6. Government of Ontario. Pneumococcal Disease Fact Sheet. Available at Last accessed July 2019.

  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pneumococcal Disease. Risk Factors and Transmission. Available at: Last accessed July 2019.

  8. Stephen I. Pelton, Derek Weycker, Raymond A. Farkouh, David R. Strutton, Kimberly M. Shea, John Edelsberg, Risk of Pneumococcal Disease in Children With Chronic Medical Conditions in the Era of Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine, Clinical Infectious Diseases, Volume 59, Issue 5, 1 September 2014, Pages 615–623, Available at: Last accessed July 2019.

  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pneumococcal Disease Risk Factors. Available at Last accessed July 2019.

  10. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pneumonia Can Be Prevented – Vaccines Can Help. Available at Last accessed July 2019.

  11. British Lung Foundation. Preventing pneumonia in children. Available at Last accessed August 2019.


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