Asthma and Pneumococcal Disease
Pneumococcal disease is caused by bacteria. There are two main types of pneumococcal disease.
Non-invasive pneumococcal disease can cause infections in the ears, sinuses or lungs.
Invasive pneumococcal disease (IPD) is a lot more serious and can even be life-threatening. Invasive pneumococcal disease can lead to pneumonia, bacteremia, sepsis or meningitis. Each year, approximately 3,000 cases of IPD are reported in Canada. Most cases are in young children under the age of five, or in older adults over the age of 65.
Pneumococcal disease can cause three serious infections:
• bacteremia (bloodstream infection),
• pneumonia (lung infection).
Symptoms of pneumococcal disease include fever, irritability, and loss of appetite. Those who have meningitis and bacteremia may have headaches, vomiting, and a stiff neck. Those with pneumonia may cough up thick mucus and have difficulty in breathing. Those with otitis media will have severe ear pain.
Invasive Pneumococcal Disease is contagious.
In Canada, invasive pneumococcal disease is more common during the winter and spring. IPD can spread from an infected person to another by close contact such as kissing, coughing, and sneezing or sharing items such as cigarettes, toys, and musical instruments.
Your risk of pneumococcal infection increases if you get the flu.
Every child under the age of two is at higher risk of IPD.
Children with the following immunocompromising or chronic illnesses are also at risk of IPD:
- chronic kidney, liver or heart disease;
- absent or poorly working spleen;
- nephrotic syndrome;
- chronic neurologic conditions causing difficulty with oral secretions;
- CSF leaks;
- immune deficiency (primary or secondary);
- sickle cell disease;
- and children with cochlear implants or on immunosuppressive therapy.
Adults with asthma, HIV, diabetes and heart disease are at higher risk for invasive pneumococcal disease.
Your risk for getting IPD can also be impacted by environmental or lifestyle factors.
Adults in the following categories are also at higher risk:
- who are smokers
- who have smoking-related diseases such as COPD
- without a working spleen
- with weakened immune systems
- who are on immunosuppressive therapy
- have a cochlear implant
- 65 years of age and older
- who are homeless
- who use illicit drugs
- with alcoholism
- living in long-term care facilities
Preventing Invasive Pneumococcal Disease
Vaccination is the most effective prevention against pneumococcal disease.
Pneumococcal vaccination is part of routine immunization schedules in Canada. There are different pneumococcal vaccines available and recommended in Canada. Talk with your health care provider about the immunization schedule in your province or territory.
If you are over the age of 65, please note: In a 2016 report, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) concluded that there is good evidence, on an individual basis, to recommend in immunocompetent adults aged 65 years and older not previously immunized against pneumococcal disease, the use of PNEU-C-13 vaccine followed by PNEU-P-23, for the prevention of Community Acquired Pneumonia and IPD caused by the 13 pneumococcal serotypes included in the conjugate vaccine.
Pneumococcal vaccines are safe and effective. Canadian laws and regulations set high standards for vaccine development, safety, and testing. Canada also has strong health systems to oversee and monitor vaccines as they arrive on the market and are made available to the public. Keeping your immunizations up to date will protect you and your family and reduce the spread of diseases like pneumococcal in your community.
Frequently Asked Questions about Pneumococcal Vaccines
Who is the pneumococcal vaccine for?
Adults at risk of pneumococcal disease infection include those with chronic underlying conditions like asthma. If you have asthma, pneumococcal vaccination is recommended for you.
Pneumococcal vaccination is also recommended for children with asthma. Pneumocccal vaccination is a part of routine immunizations of infants and children.
In Canada, pneumococcal vaccine is recommended for:
- routine immunization of infants and children
- immunization of children who missed pneumococcal immunization on the routine schedule
- immunization of people at high risk of pneumococal disease due to underlying medical conditions. High risk conditions include chronic lung disease, including asthma requiring medical care in the preceding 12 months
- immunization of residents of long-term care facilities
- immunization of adults who are at high risk of IPD due to lifestyle factors: smokers, persons with alcoholism, persons who are homeless
- immunization of all adults 65 years of age and older
What are the benefits of getting vaccinated?
Getting a pneumococcal vaccine is the best way to avoid getting pneumococcal disease. If you do get pneumococcal disease, pneumococcal vaccines reduce the risk of serious complications.
Why is it so important for people with asthma to get the pneumococcal vaccine?
For people with asthma, pneumococcal disease can be especially serious. Research is still ongoing as to why they are more at risk.
If you live with asthma, it’s important to speak with your healthcare provider about getting immunized, because vaccination is the most effective prevention against pneumococcal disease.
Why is it so important for people with asthma aged 65 and older to get a pneumococcal vaccine?
As we get older, our immune system can get weaker. This puts us at greater risk for certain diseases. Vaccine-preventable diseases like pneumococcal disease are more common with age.
If you’re over 65 years of age and living with asthma, it’s even more important to be immunized against pneumococcal disease. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recommends that for older adults, the pneumococcal vaccine should be offered in routine immunization programs for all adults aged 65 years and older for the prevention of invasive pneumococcal disease.
Do I have to get the pneumococcal vaccine every year like the flu?
No. The pneumococcal vaccine is not an annual vaccine. Speak to your health care provider about your vaccination schedule for pneumococcal disease.
Pro tip: Your risk of pneumococcal infection increases if you get the flu. It’s a good idea to get BOTH your flu shot and the pneumococcal vaccine.
What pneumococcal vaccines are used to prevent pneumococcal disease?
Pneu-C-10: Conjugate 10-valent pneumococcal vaccine
Pneu-C-13: Conjugate 13-valent pneumococcal vaccine
Pneu-C-13: Conjugate 13-valent pneumococcal vaccine
Pneu-P-23: Pneumococcal 23-valent polysaccharide vaccines
Is the pneumococcal vaccine safe?
Yes. Pneumococcal vaccines are safe and effective. Canadian laws and regulations set high standards for vaccine, development, safety, and testing. Canada also has strong health systems to oversee and monitor vaccines as they arrive on the market and are available to the public.
How do I get a pneumococcal vaccine?
Pneumococcal vaccination is part of routine immunization schedules in Canada. There are different vaccines available and recommended, so ask your healthcare provider about the immunization schedule in your province or territory.
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