What is Pneumococcal Disease?
Pneumococcal disease is an infection caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria, sometimes referred to as pneumococcus. Pneumococcus can cause many types of illnesses. There are vaccines to prevent pneumococcal disease in children and adults.
Pneumococcus is the most common cause of bloodstream infections, pneumonia, meningitis, and middle ear infections in young children.
Other than pneumonia, pneumococcus can cause other types of infections, including:
- Ear infections
- Sinus infections
- Meningitis (infection of the tissue covering the brain and spinal cord)
- Bacteremia (bloodstream infection)
Anyone can get pneumococcal disease, however some people are at greater risk for the disease than others. Age and pre-existing medical conditions can increase your risk for pneumococcal disease.
Early diagnosis and treatment are very important for invasive pneumococcal disease. It is important to know if it is pneumococcal disease because the treatment will change depending on the cause. In the case of pneumococcal disease, antibiotics can help prevent severe illness.
Who is at risk?
Children at risk:
- Children younger than 2 years old
- Children in group child care
- Children who have certain illnesses (sickle cell disease, HIV infection, chronic heart or lung conditions)
- Children with cochlear implants or cerebrospinal fluid leaks.
- Some American Indian, Alaska Native and African American children may be at an increased risk for the disease.
Adults at risk:
- Adults 65 years or older
- Adults with chronic illnesses (lung, heart, liver or kidney disease, asthma, diabetes and alcoholism)
- Adults living in nursing homes or any other long-term care facility
- Adults with cochlear implants or cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) leaks
- Adults who smoke cigarettes
There are many types of pneumococcal disease. Symptoms and complications depend on the part of the body that is infected.
Pneumococcal pneumonia (lung infection) is the most common serious form of pneumococcal disease. Symptoms include:
- Fever and chills
- Rapid breathing or difficulty breathing
- Chest pain
Older adults with pneumococcal pneumonia may experience confusion or low alertness, rather than the more common symptoms listed above.
Pneumococcal meningitis is an infection of the tissue covering the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms include:
- Stiff neck
- Photophobia (eyes being more sensitive to light)
In babies, meningitis may cause poor eating and drinking, low alertness, and vomiting.
Pneumococcal bacteremia is a blood infection. Symptoms include:
- Low alertness
Sepsis is a complication caused by the body’s overwhelming and life-threatening response to an infection, which can lead to tissue damage, organ failure, and death. Symptoms include:
- Confusion or disorientation
- Shortness of breath
- High heart rate
- Fever, shivering, or feeling very cold
- Extreme pain or discomfort
- Clammy or sweaty skin
Pneumococcus bacteria cause up to half of middle ear infections (otitis media). Symptoms include:
- Ear pain
- A red, swollen ear drum
The pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13 or Prevnar 13®) protects against the 13 types of pneumococcal bacteria that cause most of the severe illness in children and adults. The vaccine can also help prevent some ear infections. CDC recommends PCV13 for all children at 2, 4, 6, and 12 to 15 months old. CDC also recommends PCV13 for adults 19 years or older with certain medical conditions and for all adults 65 years or older.
The pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23 or Pneumovax 23®) protects against 23 types of pneumococcal bacteria. CDC recommends this vaccine for all adults 65 years or older. It is also recommended for children and adults 2 through 64 years old who are at increased risk for pneumococcal disease. For more information on who should get either of these pneumococcal vaccines, see the childhood and adult immunization schedules, or talk to your doctor or nurse.
It is also important to get an influenza vaccine every year because having the flu increases your chances of getting pneumococcal disease.