Preventing pneumococcal infections 

You can help prevent the spread of a pneumococcal infection by taking some simple hygiene precautions.

These include:

  • washing your hands regularly and thoroughly, particularly after touching your nose and mouth, and before handling food
  • coughing and sneezing into a tissue, throwing it away immediately and washing your hands
  • not sharing cups or kitchen utensils with others

Pneumococcal vaccination

Pneumococcal vaccination is very effective at preventing pneumococcal infections.

There are two types of pneumococcal vaccination  one for children, known as the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV), and one for adults, known as pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPV).

Children

All children are offered pneumococcal vaccination as part of the NHS childhood immunisation schedule.

They have three injections, which are usually given at:

  • eight weeks 
  • 16 weeks
  • one year of age

The pneumococcal vaccination for children is entirely safe, although around one child in 10 will have some redness and swelling at the site of the injection, and symptoms of a mild fever. However, these side effects will pass quickly.

Speak to your GP or health visitor if you are not sure whether your child has received their pneumococcal vaccination.

Adults

Adults can have the pneumococcal vaccine or "pneumo jab" on the NHS if they are in a high-risk group for developing a pneumococcal infection. 

Read more about who should have the pneumococcal vaccine.

If you are eligible, your GP surgery will contact you to arrange a vaccination. If they don't, contact your GP to arrange an appointment.

Healthy adults usually only need one dose of the pneumo jab. However, if you have a weakened immune system or spleen disorder, may need additional booster doses. Your GP can advise you about this.

After you've had the pneumo jab, you may experience some pain and inflammation at the site of the injection. This should last no longer than three days. Less commonly, some people report the symptoms of a mild fever. Again, this should pass quickly.

Read more about potential side effects of the pneumococcal vaccine.

Alcohol

There is an increasing body of evidence that suggests that people who drink excessive amounts of alcohol are at a greater risk of developing invasive pneumococcal infections.

Alcohol is known to suppress the immune system – the body's natural defence system that will attempt to prevent an invasive pneumococcal infection.

Therefore, the best way to lower your risk of developing a pneumococcal infection is to ensure that you stick to the recommended daily amounts of alcohol.

For men, the recommended daily amount of alcohol consumption is three to four units. For women, it's two to three units. A unit of alcohol is equal to about half a pint of normal-strength lager, a small glass of wine or a pub measure (25ml) of spirits.

Speak to your GP if you're finding it difficult to moderate your alcohol consumption. Counselling and medication are available for people with an alcohol misuse problem.

Read about alcohol and alcohol misuse for more information and advice.

Smoking

Smoking is the single biggest risk factor for developing an invasive pneumococcal infection in otherwise healthy adults.

Research has found that almost 60% of previously healthy people who develop an invasive pneumococcal infection are smokers.

It's not known exactly why smoking makes a person more vulnerable to an invasive pneumococcal infection. One theory is that the chemicals contained in tobacco smoke disrupt the normal workings of the immune system and make it less efficient.

As well as reducing your risk of developing an invasive pneumococcal infection, giving up smoking will help reduce your risk of developing other serious health conditions, such as cancer, heart disease and stroke.

If you want to give up smoking, a good first step is to see your GP. They will be able to provide help and advice about quitting, and can also refer you to an NHS Stop Smoking support service.

These services offer the most effective support for people who want to give up smoking. Studies show you are four times more likely to successfully give up smoking if you do it with the help of the NHS.

For more information, call the NHS Stop Smoking helpline on 0300 123 1044 (England only).

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Page last reviewed: 19/08/2014

Next review due: 19/08/2016