Pneumonia vs. pneumococcal disease: Three reasons to know about both

By Regence
November 08, 2022
woman with a cold

Most of us have heard of pneumonia, which is an infection in the lungs, but how many of us know what causes it? You may be surprised to learn that pneumonia can develop from bacteria, viruses and even fungi.

That said, a bacteria called streptococcus pneumoniae, or pneumococcus for short, is a major cause of pneumonia and other illnesses for both children and adults. While the name of this infection may be difficult to pronounce – pneumococcal (noo-muh-KOK-uhl) disease – it’s easy to get a vaccine to protect against potentially serious illness. Here are three reasons to learn more and get vaccinated.

1. Pneumococcus can cause many types of illnesses

The pneumococcus bacteria can attack many different parts of the body and cause mild conditions like ear and sinus infections. However, when it invades the lungs it can cause pneumonia. Additional severe conditions can occur if infection spreads to the bloodstream (sepsis), brain (meningitis) or heart (endocarditis). These serious infections often require hospitalization and can lead to death.

2. Anyone can get pneumococcal disease

Children younger than two years old and adults 65 years or older are at an increased risk for developing pneumococcal disease, but anyone can become infected. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), children and adults of all ages are at an increased risk for pneumococcal disease if they have:

  • Chronic heart, lung or kidney disease
  • Diabetes
  • Cochlear implant
  • Illnesses that weaken the immune system, such as HIV and certain cancers
  • Sickle cell disease, a damaged spleen or no spleen

3. Having the flu increases your chances of getting pneumococcal disease

Having the flu makes it easier for pneumococcus to infect you at the same time, so protection is especially important during flu season. If you're due for both the flu and pneumococcal vaccines, they can be given during the same health care visit. There are two kinds of pneumococcal vaccines available, so talk to your provider about which one is right for you depending on your age and health history.

We’re here to help

Most Regence plans cover flu and pneumococcal vaccines at 100% when members receive care at an in-network provider or pharmacy. Members can sign in to their account at to learn about their health plan benefits, search for in-network providers and more. We’re also available to help online through live chat and the message center, or members can call us at the number listed on their Regence member ID card.