Government of New Brunswick

What is pneumococcal disease?

Pneumococcal disease is caused by infection with the bacteria Streptococcus pneumoniae. Pneumococcal infection can lead to; pneumonia (infection of the lungs), otitis media (infection of the middle ear) and meningitis (infection of the membranes around the brain and spinal cord).

Invasive pneumococcal disease (IPD) is a serious bacterial infection commonly associated with severe respiratory tract infections. It is one of the leading causes of illness, hospitalization, and death worldwide.

Who is at risk of pneumococcal infections?

In Canada, serious pneumococcal disease is most common in the very young, persons at high risk due to underlying medical conditions or lifestyle factors and adults over 65 years of age.  People with certain health problems or who are immunocompromised are at higher risk of invasive pneumococcal disease. Close contacts of positive cases are usually not at increased risk of infection, and if a follow up is required, individuals will be contacted by Public Health.

If you are unsure if your medical condition puts you at high risk, contact your Primary Care Provider.

How is pneumococcal disease spread?

People spread pneumococcal bacteria to others through direct contact with respiratory secretions, like saliva or mucus. Many people, especially children, have the bacteria in their nose or throat at one time or another and don’t get sick; however, the bacteria sometimes can cause an infection.

What are the symptoms?

Pneumococcal disease can include many different types of infections. Symptoms depend on the part of the body that is infected and the age of the person.

  • Pneumonia can cause shortness of breath, fever, lack of energy, loss of appetite, headache, chest pain and cough.
  • Otitis media. In children, can cause crying, tugging at the ear, fever, irritability, poor hearing, and sometimes diarrhea and vomiting.
  • Meningitis can cause fever, headache, stiff neck, nausea, vomiting, and drowsiness.

How is pneumococcal disease diagnosed?

Early diagnosis is very important for serious pneumococcal infections. Your doctor or nurse practitioner can diagnose pneumococcal disease from the symptoms, doing an examination, and/or by doing some special tests. These tests may include a chest x-ray, and/or taking samples to look for the bacteria in the infected part of your body.

How is pneumococcal disease treated?

Treatment includes antibiotics, medicine to control the fever and pain, and fluids to prevent dehydration.

How can pneumococcal disease be prevented?

Vaccines are available to prevent many types of pneumococcal disease. The more people who are immunized against pneumococcal diseases, the harder it is for the virus to spread. There are two vaccines available against pneumococcal disease:

Routine vaccination

1.     The New Brunswick routine immunization schedule provides pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (Prevnar®13) to all New-Brunswick children at age two months, four months and 12 months of age.

2.     Pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (Pneu-P-23):

All individuals aged 65 and over: a single dose is recommended (even if they have previously received a dose before reaching 65 - based on other eligibility criteria). If an individual has already received a dose at age 65 or older, there is no need for an additional dose, unless they meet specific high-risk conditions outlined in the NB Immunization Guide (NBIPG).

Newly admitted residents of long-term care facilities should receive one dose:

  • For those who receive on admission under 65 years, another dose should be given at 65 years or after (with a minimum of 5 years interval between each dose)
  • If already received a dose at age 65 or older before admitted, there is no need to repeat, unless specific high risk conditions outline in table #2 in the NBIPG: Standard 3.3-Eligibility criteria for publicly funded vaccines in NB.

3.       High risk individuals of invasive pneumococcal disease

Children aged 12 months to 59 months who are at high risk of pneumococcal disease are eligible to receive a 4th dose between 12 and 15 months of age with the pneumococcal conjugate (Prevnar®13) vaccine.

Children over the age of 2 and adults who are at high risk of pneumococcal disease are eligible for both pneumococcal conjugate (Prevnar®13) vaccine and pneumococcal polysaccharide 23-valent vaccine (Pneu-P-23) which offers broader protection.

The pneumococcal vaccines are publicly funded to those who qualifies so therefore, a prescription from a primary care provider is not needed.  People who are not eligible for this publicly vaccine but wish to receive it can, at a cost, and should discuss this with their Primary Health Care provider.

IMPORTANT: All Health Care Professionals who wish to have more information on eligibility criteria and vaccination schedules for pneumococcal vaccines are encouraged to consult the NB Immunization Program Guide: Standard 3.3-Eligibility criteria for all publicly funded vaccines in NB.

For individuals under 65 years of age with high-risk medical conditions, please contact your local Public Health office or your Primary Health Care provider to discuss and book the right pneumococcal  vaccines for you. Pharmacies do not offer this vaccine under 65 years of age.

Anyone aged 65 years of age and older is encouraged to get a polysaccharide 23-valent vaccine (Pneu-P-23) . The pharmacy link below lists all participating pharmacies by zone. Please call them to book your appointment. 

Your Primary Health Care Provider may also administer the pneumococcal vaccines if you are aged 65 years and older. Contact them today to discuss and book the right pneumococcal vaccines for you.