Getting vaccinated is the best way to protect against some very serious infections. The Canadian Paediatric Society and the National Advisory Committee on Immunization strongly recommend routine immunization of infants and young children against pneumococcal disease.
What is penumococcal disease?
One type of bacteria that can cause an infection is called Streptococcus pneumonia (or pneumococcus). Four out of 10 healthy people have pneumococcal bacteria in their mouth, nose and throat without becoming ill.
When these bacteria enter the body they can cause pneumococcal pneumonia, which is an infection of the lungs. These bacteria can attack the blood cells and cause a serious disease called bacteraemia. They can also attack the covering of the brain and spinal cord causing meningitis.
In Canada, about 700 children under age five develop serious pneumococcal bacteraemia each year. Another 65 young children develop pneumococcal meningitis. Each year in Canada, about 15 children under age five die from serious pneumococcal disease. Children who recover may be left with life-long health problems.
Children should get three doses of the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine when they are two, four and 12 months old. Older children can also get the vaccine. Your doctor will tell you the number of vaccinations to give, and when. It is also recommended for children under five years who have high risk medical problems.
Pneumoncoccal bacteria can also cause milder forms of pneumonia, sinus infections, and middle ear infections (otitis media) particularly in children. Children who have repeated ear infections may require surgery. They may also have loss of hearing.
How do pneumococcal diseases spread?
The bacteria spreads from the nose and throat of one person to another by close, direct contact like kissing, coughing or sneezing. It can also be spread through saliva when people share things like food, cups, water bottles, straws or toothbrushes.
How can you tell if you have pneumococcal infection?
One or more of the following illnesses will occur with a pneumococcal infection:
Meningitis (brain infection) – Meningitis is a serious disease of the covering of the brain and spinal cord. Without treatment, all children who get this disease will die or suffer damage that lasts for the rest of their lives. Meningitis can cause seizures, deafness or brain damage. Symptoms of meningitis include high fever, stiff neck, headache, vomiting, fussiness (crying), and loss of appetite.
Bacteremia (bloodstream infection) – Bacteremia is an illness caused when bacteria get into the blood. Other parts of the body can become affected and it can cause permanent damage. Symptoms are similar to those of meningitis: high fever, stiff neck, headache, vomiting, fussiness, and loss of appetite.
Pneumonia (lung infection) – Pneumonia causes the lungs to fill with fluid. People with pneumonia have trouble breathing. Children who get pneumonia from the pneumococcal bacteria will have a fever and cough that may bring up thick mucous. They will also become very ill quickly.
Otitis media (middle ear infection) – When a person has a middle ear infection, the eardrum turns red, and the space behind it fills with fluid or pus. Many different bacteria can cause ear infections, including pneumococcus. Children under two years of age sometimes get middle ear infections when they have a common cold. Middle ear infections can cause ear pain, fever, lack of energy, fussiness, and a lack of appetite.
How safe is the vaccine?
The vaccine is very safe. With any vaccine, there may be some redness or soreness at the site where the needle was given. Some children will have a mild fever after getting the vaccine. More serious side effects are rare.
How do you get the vaccine?
Pneumococcal vaccine (Prevnara) is given by injection. The number of doses depends on how old the child is on the day of the first dose. Infants who begin the series at two months of age will be given three doses at two, four, and 12 months of age. If Prevnarâ„¢ is started at a later age then the health care provider will use an alternate schedule depending on the starting age.
Who should NOT get the pneumococcal vaccine?
- Persons who have had an allergic reaction to a previous pneumococcal vaccine.
- Persons who have a known allergy to any component of the vaccine.
- Persons who are acutely ill with fever should delay being vaccinated.
- Persons with a allergy to latex should discuss this with their health care provider.
Record of Protection
After you/your child receive any vaccinations, make sure the doctor/nurse updates your copy of the vaccination record card. In addition, please report the vaccination to the Public Health Unit.
For more information, please contact a member of the Vaccine Preventable Disease Team by calling the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit at 519-426-6170 or 905-318-6623.