Risk Factors and Transmission

Anyone can get pneumococcal disease, but some people are at greater risk for disease than others. Being a certain age or having some medical conditions can put you at increased risk for pneumococcal disease.

Children at Risk for Pneumococcal Disease

Children at increased risk for pneumococcal disease include those:

daycare
  • Younger than 2 years old
  • Who have certain illnesses (sickle cell disease, HIV infection, diabetes, immune compromising conditions, nephrotic syndrome, or chronic heart, lung, kidney, or liver disease)
  • With cochlear implants or cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) leaks (escape of the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord)

Adults at Risk for Pneumococcal Disease

If you’re at increased risk for pneumococcal disease, talk to your doctor about which pneumococcal vaccines you need and when.

Adults 65 years or older are at increased risk for pneumococcal disease.

Some adults 19 through 64 years old are also at increased risk for pneumococcal disease, including those:

  • With chronic illnesses (chronic heart, liver, kidney, or lung [including chronic obstructive lung disease, emphysema, and asthma] disease; diabetes; or alcoholism)
  • With conditions that weaken the immune system (HIV/AIDS, cancer, or damaged/absent spleen)
  • With cochlear implants or cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) leaks (escape of the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord)
  • Who smoke cigarettes

Transmission

Pneumococcal bacteria spread from person-to-person by 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 without being ill. Doctors call this “carriage” and do not know why it only rarely leads to sickness.

Page last reviewed: September 6, 2017