Pneumococcal disease

Pneumococcal disease is caused by a bacteria called pneumococcus. The disease is often mild, but can cause serious symptoms, lifelong disability, and even death. Pneumococcal disease is spread by coughing and sneezing.

Types of pneumococcal disease include pneumonia (lung infection), meningitis, bloodstream infections (bacteremia and sepsis), middle ear infections and sinus infections. Children younger than 2 years of age are most likely to have a serious case of pneumococcal disease.

According to the CDC, each year in the United States, pneumococcus causes thousands of cases of pneumonia and ear infections. Additionally, about 2,000 cases of serious pneumococcal disease occur each year in children under 5 in the U.S. These illnesses can lead to disabilities like deafness, brain damage, or loss of arms or legs. About 1 in 15 children who get pneumococcal meningitis dies. About 1 in 5 children with bacteremia will die from it.


Symptoms depend on the type of pneumococcal disease, but generally include fever and/or chills. Additional symptoms may include:

  • Cough, rapid breathing or difficulty breathing, and chest pain (pneumonia)
  • Stiff neck, headache, confusion and pain when looking at bright lights (meningitis)
  • Poor eating and drinking, low alertness, and vomiting (meningitis)
  • Low alertness (bacteremia)
  • Ear pain, red/swollen ear drum and sleepiness (middle ear infection)


The pneumococcal vaccine (also called PCV13) is the best way to prevent pneumococcal disease. For the most protection against pneumococcal disease, your children need to receive all four recommended doses of the vaccine. Doses are given at 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, and between 12 and 15 months. To see if your children are up-to-date on their vaccines, look at the CDC’s immunization schedule and talk to your healthcare provider.

Adults need pneumococcal vaccines too. Learn more.