Myths and Facts: Pneumococcal Disease

When it comes to pneumococcal disease, there’s a lot of misinformation floating around. Here, we address some of the more common myths about pneumococcal disease.

Myth 1: Pneumococcal disease is not common

Fact: Pneumococcus is a common cause of pneumonia among children; in the US, it is the most common cause of invasive bacterial infection.

Myth 2: Pneumococcal disease is not serious.

Fact: The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that pneumococcal disease was responsible for 5% of global child mortality in 2012. Thus, do not take this disease lightly as it can cause life-threatening complications and even death.

Myth 3: Pneumococcal disease only causes pneumonia.

Fact: Pneumonia (lung infection) is just one of the possible infections caused by pneumococcal disease. Other possible infections include bacteraemia (blood infection), sinusitis (sinus infection), and meningitis (infection of the lining of the brain/spinal cord) that can be serious, leading to long-term complications such as brain damage, hearing loss, seizures, and otitis media (middle ear infection).

Myth 4: If you’re a carrier of the bacteria that causes pneumococcal disease, you won’t get sick from it.

Fact: This is only true if one’s immune system is capable of keeping the bacteria from flourishing. However, the moment that your immune system fails to keep the bacteria under control, it will start multiplying. This means that being a carrier is similar to that of a ticking time bomb, but worse yet is the fact that carriers increase the risk of other people around them getting the disease.

Myth 5: Pneumococcal disease affects everyone equally

Fact: Anyone can get pneumococcal disease but people at risk include children under 5 years old, teens, adults with comorbidities, adults above 60 years old, and anyone with a compromised immune system (including immune-deficient patients) face a higher risk of infection from pneumococcal disease, and also a higher risk of complications/death. Hence, it is crucial to protect this group of people and this can be achieved safely through immunisation.

Myth 6: There is only one strain of bacteria that causes pneumococcal disease.

Fact: There are around 100 known strains of Streptococcus pneumoniae. At present, available vaccines help protect against the most common strains of the bacteria.

Myth 7: COVID-19 and pneumococcal pneumonia are the same.

Fact: The former is a viral infection while the latter is a bacterial infection. Although both may cause pneumonia, there is a difference, for instance in terms of how pneumonia develops/progresses; viral pneumonia usually occurs gradually but can be severe/fatal, while bacterial pneumonia usually occurs rapidly and may be aggressive/hard to treat.


Take preventive action

As parents, don’t overlook the importance of vaccination. If your child was born before 1 January 2020, he/she is not eligible for the pneumococcal vaccination under the National Immunisation Programme, so do ensure that he/she is vaccinated against pneumococcal disease.

In addition to young children, people with chronic health conditions (e.g. heart disease, diabetes, etc.) and the elderly (60 years and above) also face greater risk of complications if infected by either COVID-19 or pneumococcal disease. Should any of your family members fall under this category, vaccination against pneumococcal disease is highly recommended.

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