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Streptococcus Pneumoniae (Pneumococcal Disease)

Division of Epidemiology
275 East Main Street
Frankfort, KY  40621

What is Pneumococcal Disease?

Streptococcus pneumoniae causes a bacterial infection called pneumococcal disease. This organism may cause meningitis, pneumonia, middle ear infections or infection in the blood stream. (See Meningitis.)

How is Pneumococcal Disease Spread?

Pneumococcus bacteria are spread from an infected person when he or she sneezes or coughs secretions from the nose and throat into the air and a susceptible person is exposed to the secretions. The bacteria may also be spread to another person who, after having direct contact with an infected person’s secretions, rubs his eyes or in other ways transfers the bacteria to himself through touch.

Who is at risk for Pneumococcal Disease?

Anyone can get pneumococcal disease. However, infection most often occurs in the elderly, people with serious chronic heart, lung or kidney diseases, and those with weakened immune systems, or those without spleens.

What are the Symptoms of Pneumococcal Disease?

Symptoms will vary depending upon the location of the infection. Generally, symptoms include fever and may include headache, disorientation and stiff neck, or cough, chest pain, and shortness of breath.

How is Pneumococcal Disease Diagnosed and Treated?

Pneumococcal Disease is diagnosed by laboratory culture growth of the bacteria from a specimen collected from a normally sterile site (blood, spinal fluid) of an infected person.

Some strains of Streptococcus pneumoniae have become resistant to certain antibiotics, primarily penicillin, and some have become multidrug-resistant. Antibiotic resistance means that the antibiotics usually used to treat an infection will not be effective in destroying a resistant strain. Prompt treatment with different antibiotics to which the strain is susceptible is usually effective in curing the infection.

How is Pneumococcal Disease Prevented?

Avoid contact with secretions from the mouth and nose, by covering sneezes and coughs, washing hands, and disposing tissues. Most infections occur during the winter and early spring, less frequently during the summer. Infections might be prevented through the use of vaccine. The 23–valent pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine is recommended for persons 65 years of age and older, for people 19-64 years of age who smoke or have asthma, and for people 2 years of age and older with certain chronic illnesses. There is also a 13-valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine routinely recommended for children beginning at 2 months of age.


Last Updated 9/30/2010