Pneumococcal Pneumonia

What is Pneumococcal Pneumonia?

Pneumococcal disease is caused by the bacterium Streptococcus pneumonia. Pneumococcal infections usually fall into one of two categories:

  • Non-invasive pneumococcal infection – these occur outside the major organs or the blood and tend to be less serious. These can include bronchitis, ear infections and sinusitis.
  • Invasive pneumococcal infections – these occur inside a major organ or the blood and tend to be more serious such as infections of the blood, bone, joints, lungs and brain.

Invasive pneumococcal infection is a major cause of disease and death globally and in the UK.

The following is a summary about the disease. For further details speak to your local pharmacist or GP.

How is pneumococcal pneumonia spread?

The bacteria enter the body through the nose and mouth. The infection can be spread through droplets in the air when coughing or sneezing.  It can also be passed from touching surfaces or objects contaminated with the bacteria and then touching the nose or mouth.2

What are the signs and symptoms of pneumococcal pneumonia?

Symptoms of pneumococcal pneumonia can vary depending on the type of infection. Some common symptoms include:

  • Fever (over 38°C)
  • Chills and shaking
  • Sweats
  • Aches and pains
  • Headache
  • A general sense of feeling unwell
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cough
  • Blood-stained or ‘rusty’ coloured phlegm
  • Drowsiness or confusion are common symptoms in the elderly2

What are the complications of pneumococcal pneumonia?

Pneumonia is one of more serious symptoms of pneumococcal disease where:

  • Lungs become inflamed and fill with fluid and prevent sufficient transfer of oxygen into the bloodstream.
  • Typical symptoms in children under five include: fever, cough, chest pain and difficulty with breathing.
  • Other symptoms can include headaches, tiredness, feeling sick or vomiting, wheezing, joint and muscle pain, and feeling confused and disorientated (particularly in elderly people).
  • Symptoms can appear very suddenly, or take several days to develop.

Other serious symptoms include:

  • Meningitis (inflammation of the outer covering of the brain and spinal cord)
  • Blood poisoning (septicaemia)

How is pneumococcal pneumonia diagnosed and treated?

The diagnosis of Pneumonia is made primarily through clinical signs and symptoms. However, if unwell seek medical advice promptly.

Refer to “What are the signs and symptoms of pneumococcal pneumonia” section for more details.

A full list of signs and symptoms can also be found here.5

What advice is there for those travelling to high risk countries?

Preventative measures to limit the spread of pneumococcal infection include:

  • Regular hand hygiene particularly after touching mouth and nose, and before handling food.
  • Coughing and sneezing into a tissue and discarding it immediately and washing hands
  • Not sharing cups or kitchen utensils with others

Vaccinations against pneumococcal pneumonia disease

There are two types of vaccine to protect against pneumococcal infection:

  • Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV)6
  • Pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPV)7

Both vaccines protect against and provide protection against many but not all types of pneumococcal bacteria.

The vaccines stimulate the body to make antibodies against pneumococcal bacteria. The antibodies provide protection should infection occur.8

When to consider vaccination?

Healthy people who are at low risk are also recommended to be vaccinated as it reduces their time off work as well as promoting herd immunity.

Eligible Groups for  Pneumococcal Polysaccharide Vaccine (PPV)

  • People aged 65 years and over
  • People aged between 2-64 with the following conditions:
  1. Chronic respiratory disease
  2. Chronic heart disease
  3. Chronic kidney disease
  4. Chronic liver disease
  5. Diabetes – insulin controlled
  6. Immunosuppression & no spleen or dysfunction of the spleen
  7. Individuals with cochlear implants

Further information about risk groups can be found here.

Babies and the pneumococcal vaccine 

Babies are routinely vaccinated with the Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) as part of their childhood vaccination programme. They have three injections, which are usually given at:

  • 8 weeks old
  • 16 weeks old
  • One year old8

Am I eligible to receive vaccination against Pneumococcal disease on the NHS?

People who think they may be eligible for the pneumococcal vaccine under the NHS should contact their GP.


This information is taken from trusted third party websites, NaTHNaC (Travel Health Pro) and EMIS (Patient info) and use of all information has been licenced under the Open Government Licence

Although the materials are being used/replicated under the provisions of the Open Government Licence this in no way represents endorsement of by NaTHNaC, Emis, Public Health England, the NHS or the Department of Health and Social Care.

  1. UK: Pneumococcal disease: guidance, data and analysis
  2. Pneumonia
  3. WHO: Pneumonia
  4. WHO: International travel and health
  5. NHS: Symptoms – Pneumococcal infections
  6. Public Health England: Pneumococcal immunisation guideline
  7. The Green book : Chapter 25 Pneumococcal
  8. Pneumococcal Vaccination