Risk Factors and Transmission

Anyone can get pneumococcal disease, but some people are at increased risk. Being a certain age or having certain medical conditions can increase a person’s risk for pneumococcal disease.

Children at Risk for Pneumococcal Disease

Children at increased risk for pneumococcal disease include those younger than 2 years old and those with:

  • Sickle cell disease, no spleen, HIV infection, cancer, or another condition that weakens the immune system
  • Diabetes
  • Nephrotic syndrome
  • Chronic heart, lung, or kidney disease
  • Cochlear implants
  • Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) leaks (escape of the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord)

Adults at Risk for Pneumococcal Disease

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

Adults of all ages are also at increased risk for pneumococcal disease if they have:

  • Sickle cell disease, no spleen, HIV infection, cancer, or another condition that weakens the immune system
  • Diabetes
  • Nephrotic syndrome
  • Chronic heart, lung, kidney, or liver disease
  • Cochlear implants
  • CSF leaks
  • Alcoholism

Adults who smoke cigarettes are also at increased risk for pneumococcal disease.

Chronic lung illnesses that increase an adult’s risk of pneumococcal disease include chronic obstructive lung disease, emphysema, and asthma.

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

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Spread to Others

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 without being ill. Doctors call this “carriage” and do not know why it only rarely leads to sickness.

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Page last reviewed: September 1, 2020