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Pneumococcal disease is caused by bacteria and there are 90 different types of pneumococcal bacteria.
The bacteria is carried in the throat, often without causing disease, and is spread through the air during coughing and sneezing.
The pneumococcal bacteria causes severe disease such as:
meningitis, an infection of the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord
septicaemia or blood poisoning
infections of the joints, around the heart or of the bones and the soft tissue beneath the skin.
The bacteria also causes pneumonia, ear and sinus infections. Pneumococcal disease may be a complication from a viral infection.
Each year in New Zealand more than 150 children under the age of five years are admitted to hospitals with pneumococcal disease.
About one in 10 children with pneumococcal meningitis die and one in six survivors will have permanent brain damage
About one in three children will be left with a hearing impairment after pneumococcal meningitis.
Pneumonia and septicaemia (blood poisoning) leads to hospitalisation.
Less severe illness, such as ear infections, may lead to deafness.
Children with medical conditions such as congenital heart disease, some chronic lung diseases, kidney diseases, HIV infection, and children whose immune system is lowered through chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or organ transplant are at higher risk of pneumococcal disease.
Children with spinal fluid shunts and with cochlear implants are also at higher risk of pneumococcal disease.
Vaccine protection for pneumococcal disease, using a pneumococcal conjugate vaccine, was added to the National Immunisation Schedule in 2008 and is free for all infants born from 01 January 2008.
The vaccine brand used was called Prevenar and covered the seven most common pneumococcal types that cause disease in infants and young children It has since been replaced with a different pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (late 2011) called Synflorix. This vaccine is given at the scheduled visits of 6 weeks, 3 months, 5 months and 15 months of age. Synflorix covers the same seven pneumococcal types that Prevenar does plus three more types.
From 1 July 2011 Prevenar 13 replaces Prevenar for children with particular medical conditions eligible for the ‘High Risk Pneumococcal Immunisation Programme’. Prevenar 13 covers the same seven pneumococcal types that Prevenar does plus six more types. It is to be used instead of Prevenar or Synflorix.
A pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine is also available for people older than 2 years with medical conditions that increase their risk of pneumococcal disease. Only some medical conditions entitle people to receive this vaccine for free. Talk to your nurse or doctor for more information.
The pneumococcal vaccine is available for private purchase through general practices if people want it. For more advice on vaccines and their availability, talk to your family doctor, call the free Immunisation Advisory Centre helpline 0800 IMMUNE (0800 466 863), or see the Immunisation Handbook (2011).
Disclaimer - The Meningitis Foundation Aotearoa New Zealand promotes the prevention, control and awareness of meningitis. It is not a professional medical authority. The text on this website provides general information about meningitis and septicaemia, not medical advice. It is not intended for use in the diagnosis or treatment of these diseases. Please consult your doctor to discuss the information or if you are concerned someone may be ill.
We need your help in reducing and preventing meningitis. Your support will assist the Foundation’s work in the fight against this disease.