A to Z Health Guide

Chronic Kidney Disease and Pneumococcal Disease: Do You Know the Facts?

It’s important to stay up-to-date with your vaccinations, especially if you have kidney disease, kidney failure, or a transplant.  There are several vaccines that you need.  One important vaccine that you may not know about is the vaccine for pneumococcal disease.   

What is pneumococcal disease?

Pneumococcal disease is an infection caused by bacteria called "pneumococcus."  It can lead to serious, possibly deadly, illnesses such as pneumonia, meningitis, and sepsis (a blood infection).  Anyone can get these diseases, but some people have a higher risk.  People with the highest risk include infants, people 65 years and older, and adults of any age with certain health conditions such as kidney disease.  You also have a higher risk if you are on dialysis or have a kidney transplant.

Why am I at risk for pneumococcal disease?

Normally, your body fights off anything that isn’t part of itself, like germs and viruses.  That system of protection is called your “immune system.” Having kidney disease and kidney failure can weaken your immune system, making it easier for infections to take hold.  In fact, doctors and researchers have found that most infections, like those caused by pneumococcal disease, are worse in people with kidney disease.  People with a kidney transplant also have weakened immune systems.  This is because antirejection medicines (“immunosuppressants”), which protect the body from rejecting the transplanted kidney, suppress the immune system.  The good news?  Getting vaccinated can help protect against pneumococcal disease.

What are the symptoms of pneumococcal disease?

Symptoms are not the same for everyone. They can be different from person to person.  They can appear very suddenly and without warning. Depending on whether the infection causes pneumonia, sepsis, or meningitis, you may have some combination of the following:

  • Abrupt onset of fever
  • Shaking/chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Stiff neck
  • Disorientation

If you develop any of these symptoms, seek immediate medical help.  Call 911 or go to the emergency room

Why is this vaccine so important?

It is important to have this vaccine because:

  • Pneumococcal disease causes several different illnesses. Pneumococcal bacteria can get into the lungs and cause pneumonia. If they enter the bloodstream, they can cause an infection called “sepsis.” They can also infect the covering of the heart, or they can invade the central nervous system and cause meningitis.

  • Pneumococcal disease is dangerous and deadly. All forms of pneumococcal disease can be serious, even deadly, but sepsis and meningitis are the most serious. People who survive either of these often face hospitalization, long recovery time, and devastating health problems such as hearing loss, seizures, blindness, and paralysis. Pneumococcal pneumonia is also dangerous.  It causes death in 5 to 7 percent of people who get it.  In some people, it can cause a heart attack or heart failure.

  • You can get pneumococcal disease from a person who appears healthy. Pneumococcal bacteria live in the throat and spread through coughing, sneezing, or through direct contact such as kissing. Not everyone who carries the bacteria gets sick from it, so it's possible to "catch" pneumococcal disease from someone who seems to be healthy.

  • People with kidney disease, kidney failure, or a kidney transplant also need influenza vaccination. Flu or influenza is also a serious infection that people with CKD need to be protected against. In addition, having influenza increases your risk of pneumococcal disease. So people with kidney disease need both influenza vaccine and pneumococcal vaccine. You should get vaccinated for flu every year, preferably before the flu season starts, but vaccination remains useful throughout the season. Pneumococcal vaccine can be given any time of the year.

How often should I be vaccinated?

There are two types of pneumococcal vaccines available for adults: a pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23) and a pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13). Adults with kidney disease, kidney failure, or a kidney transplant need to receive both vaccines.

Most healthy adults only need to be vaccinated one time, but some people at high risk, including people with kidney disease, dialysis-treated patients, and people with kidney transplants, need to receive two pneumococcal vaccines initially followed by revaccination in five years. Ask your doctor about your specific circumstances.

Do children need protection against pneumococcal disease?

Yes.  Infants and young children in the United States need to be protected against pneumococcal disease.  In fact, they are routinely vaccinated for pneumococcal disease because it is part of the standard infant immunization schedule. Pneumococcal vaccine is also recommended for older children and adolescents with kidney disease, kidney failure, or an organ transplant, even if they received the vaccine as infants. If your child hasn't been vaccinated, talk to your doctor.

Who else should get the pneumococcal vaccination?

For adults, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends pneumococcal vaccination for:

  • Anyone 65 years of age and older

  • Adults with any of these health conditions:

    • Chronic illnesses such as lung, heart, liver or kidney disease; asthma; diabetes; or alcoholism

    • Conditions that weaken the immune system; cochlear implants; or cerebro-spinal fluid (CSF) leaks; asplenia (loss of the spleen)

    • Adults who smoke cigarettes

Related Content

Vaccinations for Adults with Kidney Disease, Kidney Failure, or Kidney Transplants

For more information, speak with your health care professional or visit Adultvaccination.org or the CDC website.

Date Reviewed: 
August 2, 2016

The information shared on our websites is information developed solely from internal experts on the subject matter, including medical advisory boards, who have developed guidelines for our patient content. This material does not constitute medical advice. It is intended for informational purposes only. No one associated with the National Kidney Foundation will answer medical questions via e-mail. Please consult a physician for specific treatment recommendations.