strep bacteria

What is pneumococcal disease?

Pneumococcal disease is an infection caused by the streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria. The bacteria causes many different diseases such as pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections, meningitis, and bacteremia.

How is pneumococcal disease spread?

Pneumococcal disease is spread when somebody coughs or sneezes and another person breathes in the respiratory droplets or touches an infected surface. It can also spread from person-to-person contact.

Who is at risk for pneumococcal disease?

Pneumococcal disease is more common in the fall and the spring, but it is present year-round in the tropics. The following people may be at higher risk for pneumococcal disease:

  • Travelers – especially those spending time in crowds or with unvaccinated children
  • People who live or spend time in developing countries
  • People in nursing homes, daycares, and other institutions
  • Adults over 65
  • Children under 2
  • People with weakened immune systems
  • Smokers
  • People with asthma

What are the symptoms of pneumococcal disease?

Symptoms depend on the part of the body that is infected. Symptoms may include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Stiff neck
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Joint pain
  • Chills
  • Ear pain
  • Sleeplessness
  • Irritability

In severe cases, pneumococcal disease can cause:

  • Hearing loss
  • Brain damage
  • Death

What should I do if I believe I have pneumococcal disease?

If you are showing signs of pneumococcal disease, contact your healthcare provider for further diagnoses. Tell them about areas that you have traveled to so they can properly determine if you have the disease.

How can pneumococcal disease be prevented?

The best way to prevent pneumococcal disease is to get the pneumococcal vaccination. Countries that give routine vaccines rarely see cases of pneumococcal disease. Be sure you and your children have received all doses of the vaccination and stay up to date on vaccinations.

Pneumococcal disease can also be prevented by practicing good hygiene, especially while traveling overseas. It is important to frequently wash your hands with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Do not touch your face with unwashed hands. Cover your cough and sneezes with a tissue or your sleeve, and do not cover your mouth with your hands. Avoid close contact with sick people.

For more information on pneumococcal disease, click here.