Pneumonia Frequently Asked Questions

What is pneumococcal pneumonia?


Pneumonia is triggered by bacteria called streptococcus pneumococcus, which may be spread through droplets in the air. The incubation period is one to three days which means people who are exposed to the bacteria will have symptoms such as fever, cough, shortness of breath and fatigue within three days after contact.


A blood test and a chest x-ray ordered by a physician will often determine if a patient has pneumonia and how it should be treated. Antibiotics are often prescribed to treat pneumonia, but there are other things patients can do to feel better.

  1. Get plenty of rest and sleep
  2. Drink liquids frequently
  3. Don't smoke
  4. Take cough medicine—as prescribed by a physician—if your cough disrupts your sleep

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 40,000 cases pneumococcal pneumonia are diagnosed annually and more than 4,000 people die from pneumonia. There is a 5 to 7 percent risk of dying from pneumococcal pneumonia that rises among people older than 65 years and those with chronic medical conditions, impaired immunity and alcohol or tobacco dependency. The chance of contracting a pneumococcal infection and the associated risk of dying can be reduced by getting a pneumococcal vaccine.


What is the pneumococcal vaccine?


The pneumococcal vaccine is used to prevent infection caused by pneumococcal bacteria. The vaccine boosts the immunity against 23 of the most common types of pneumococcal bacteria.


The pneumococcal vaccine works by exposing you to a small dose of the protein from the bacteria, which causes your body to develop immunity to the disease. It will not treat an active infection that has already developed in the body. The vaccine is not a "live-virus" and you cannot get pneumococcal disease from the vaccine. Like any vaccine, pneumococcal may not provide protection from disease in every person. 


Who should get the pneumococcal vaccine?


People that should receive the pneumococcal vaccine include:

  1. People who are older than age 65 since their weakened immune systems are less like to fight off the bacteria.
  2. People between the age of 19 and 64 with illnesses such as lung, heart or kidney disease, diabetes or alcoholism, HIV/AIDS and cancer patients, and those with no spleen or a damaged spleen.
  3. Those who have had cochlear implants or cerebro-spinal fluid leaks.
  4. Cigarette smokers.
  5. Residents of nursing homes or long-term care facilities.

What should I discuss with my health care provider before receiving the vaccine?


You should not receive the vaccine if you have ever had a life-threatening allergic reaction to any pneumococcal vaccine.

Before receiving the pneumococcal vaccine, tell your doctor if you are allergic to any drugs, or if you have a bleeding or blood clotting disorder such as hemophilia or easy bruising. Also tell your doctor about other vaccines you have recently received. In addition, tell your doctor if you have recently received drugs or treatments that can weaken the immune system.


How is the vaccine given?


The pneumococcal vaccine is given as an injection (shot) under the skin into a muscle of your arm or thigh. Your doctor may recommend treating fever and pain with an aspirin-free pain reliever such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) when the shot is given and for the next 24 hours. Follow the label directions or your doctor's instructions about how much of this medicine to take.


What are the possible side effects of this vaccine?


You should not receive a pneumococcal vaccine if you had a life-threatening allergic reaction to a previous pneumococcal vaccine. Keep track of any and all side effects you have after receiving this vaccine. Tell your doctor if you had any side effects from a previous dose of pneumococcal vaccine before another dose is given.


Becoming infected with pneumococcal disease (such as pneumonia or meningitis) is much more dangerous than receiving this vaccine. However, like any medicine, this vaccine can cause side effects but the risk of serious side effects is extremely low. Get emergency medical help if you have any signs of an allergic reaction, including hives; difficulty breathing; swelling of your face, lips, tongue or throat.


Call your doctor immediately if you have a serious side effect such as:

  • High fever (103 degrees or higher)
  • Easy bruising or bleeding
  • Swollen glands with skin rash or itching, joint pain, and general ill feeling
  • Pale or yellowed skin, dark colored urine, confusion or weakness
  • Numbness or tingly feeling in your feet and spreading upward, severe lower back pain
  • Changes in behavior
  • Problems with vision, speech, swallowing or bladder and bowel functions
  • Slow heart rate, trouble breathing, feeling like you might pass out

Less serious side effects are more likely to occur, such as:

  • Low fever (102 degrees or less), chills, tired feeling
  • Swelling, pain, tenderness or redness anywhere on your body
  • Headache, nausea or vomiting
  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Swelling or stiffness in the arm or leg the vaccine was injected into
  • Mild skin rash
  • Mild soreness, warmth, redness, swelling or a hard lump where the shot was given

This is not a complete list of side effects and others may occur. Call your doctor for medical advice about side effects.