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Health Department

Pneumococcal Disease


Tell me more about pneumococcal disease.

Pneumococcal disease refers to any number of the infections caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae. The pneumococcus is a small, round bacterium that occurs mainly in pairs and is surrounded by a polysaccharide (carbohydrate) shell. It can cause invasive disease (meningitis, sepsis) or non-invasive disease (pneumonia, otitis media). S. pneumoniae is the leading cause of community-acquired pneumonia. A new vaccine was licensed in 2000 to improve immune response in young children.

How is S. pneumoniae transmitted?

A large portion of the population are colonized by S. pneumoniae, though they do not experience any symptoms of disease. Pneumococcal disease develops when S. pneumoniae either travels from its normal residence in the upper respiratory tract to another place in the body (i.e., the lungs, bloodstream, or brain) or when a person brings pneumococcal bacteria from another person in contact with their own nose or mouth.

Infection with S. pneumoniae requires direct contact with respiratory secretions or close contact with an infected person.

What are the symptoms of pneumococcal disease?

The exact symptoms of pneumococcal disease will vary by site of infection, but generally appear 1-3 days after infection. The symptoms for the four major types of pneumococcal disease are listed below:



 Sepsis  Otitis media
  •  Headache
  •  Fever
  •  Fever
  •  Fever
  •  Stiff neck
  •  Chills
  •  Systemic shock
  •  Painful ears
  •  Fever
  •  Rigors
  •  Vomiting
  •  Productive cough
  •  Seizures
  •  Hypoxia

How is pneumococcal disease treated?

Penicillin used to be the drug of choice in treating S. pneumoniae, but currently in the US, over 40% of the pneumococci are resistant to penicillin. Therefore, other, more expensive and more toxic antibiotics are needed in order to kill the infection. These antibiotics can be given intravenously (IV) or by mouth.

Supportive care is also useful in alleviating some of the symptoms of pneumococcal disease, such as fever, headache, and difficulty breathing.

What can I do to prevent pneumococcal disease?

Two vaccines against S. pneumoniae currently exist: one in a formulation for routine infant vaccination, and another, similar vaccine for use in all persons over the age of two. Depending on your child's medical history, you may be advised to take both vaccines.

As well, good handwashing techniques are very useful in preventing pneumococcal disease.


CDC Info on Pneumococcal Disease: