Prevnar 13 and Pneumococcal Infections

"Achoooo!" You turn to your sneezing child, give them a comforting smile, and pass them a tissue.

This is an all-too-familiar scene for a parent of a young child. As a loving parent, you wish that your child would never get sick. But when they do, you hold them in your arms and give them extra comfort. You sing songs, talk soothingly, and watch over them while they're sleeping. You try not to worry too much about it. After all, it's just a common bug that they will soon get over. Isn't it? Won't they? Rest assured that most of the time it is and they will.

One bug that can cause childhood illness is from a very common group of bacteria called Streptococcus pneumoniae. You might have guessed correctly from the name that it can cause pneumonia. In fact, it's the most common bacteria that can give your child pneumonia.

At any one time, there is a 20% to 60% chance that your child is carrying this bacteria around in their throat. But only a few get ill, and it's not possible to predict when and who will become sick. Normally, infections are mild and affect the middle ear, sinuses, and/or lungs, causing only cold-like symptoms, ear aches, and mild pneumonia. These mild infections can be treated with oral antibiotics and you can expect your child to fully recover.

In a few cases, invasive pneumococcal disease (IPD) may occur, where the bacteria invade the blood or neighbouring tissues and become much more dangerous. About 40 in 100,000 infants less than 1 year old and about 25 in 100,000 children aged 1 to 4 years old get serious pneumococcal disease. If it gets into the blood it can lead to septic shock - a life-threatening condition caused by infection and sepsis (infection in the blood stream). It can also spread to the brain lining, causing swelling (meningitis) that can result in brain damage and hearing loss. Bacteria in the lung lining can cause bacteremic pneumonia (a serious type of pneumonia caused by bacteria). These types of infection require hospitalization and intravenous antibiotic treatment, and some people retain some effects for life. Although anyone can become infected, children under 5 years and especially those under 2 years of age have the highest risk of developing these severe and life-threatening complications.

Prevnar® 13 is a vaccine that helps protect against 13 strains of Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria. It helps protect your child against diseases such as meningitis, sepsis or bacteremia (bacteria in the bloodstream), and bacteremic pneumonia caused by 13 strains of the bacteria Streptococcus pneumoniae. Prevnar® 13 is not indicated to reduce mortality, neurological sequelae, and hearing loss.

Prevnar® 13 contains the 7 strains that are included in Prevnar® (7-valent), a pneumococcal vaccine that has been available since 2001. Since the development of Prevnar® (7-valent), 6 additional strains have become more common. These strains are included in Prevnar® 13. Among them are serotypes (strains) 19A, 6A, and 3.

Prevnar® 13 is usually given as a series of doses. It should be given according to the vaccination schedule recommendations for your province or territory. Prevnar® 13 may be given to infants as young as 6 weeks and to children through 5 years of age. Children who have completed the infant series with Prevnar® (7-valent) can receive a single dose of Prevnar® 13 in the second year of life. Ontario parents can click here for an important Ontario vaccination schedule update. You can also talk to your child's health care professional to find out when your child should receive their vaccine.

Like other vaccines, Prevnar® 13 may have side effects. The most common include irritability, drowsiness, sleep problems (e.g., decreased, increased, or restless sleep), decreased appetite, fever, and injection-site reactions (e.g., pain, redness, tenderness, swelling, or hardness at the spot where the vaccine was given). Children may also experience diarrhea, rash, and vomiting.

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It's important to know that the pneumococcal vaccine is not intended to be used for treatment of active infection. Prevnar® 13 will only protect against disease caused by the types of Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria in the vaccine. As with any vaccine, Prevnar® 13 will not protect 100% of those who receive the vaccine, and it may cause side effects, as mentioned above. Take special care with Prevnar® 13 if your child has any present or past medical problems after any dose of Prevnar® (7-valent) or Prevnar® 13, if your child is sick with a high fever, or if your child has any bleeding problems. Speak to your health care professional if you have any concerns and to find out if Prevnar® 13 is right for your child.

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