Pneumococcal disease is caused by common bacteria (Streptococcus pneumoniae) that can attack different parts of the body. When these bacteria invade the lungs, they can cause pneumonia; when they invade the bloodstream, they can cause sepsis; and when they invade the covering of the brain, they can cause meningitis. The bacteria can also cause middle ear infection (otitis media) and sinusitis.
Pneumococcal disease is a leading cause of serious illness throughout the world. In the US, it is estimated that about one million adults get pneumococcal pneumonia each year, as many as 400,000 hospitalizations from pneumococcal pneumonia occur, and about 5-7% of those who are hospitalized from it will die. The death rate is even higher in those age 65 years and older. Fewer people will get pneumococcal meningitis or bloodstream infection, but the mortality rate for these infections is even higher, even with proper treatment.
The symptoms of pneumococcal pneumonia include fever, cough, shortness of breath, and chest pain. The symptoms of pneumococcal meningitis include stiff neck, fever, mental confusion and disorientation, and coma. The symptoms of pneumococcal bloodstream infection may be similar to some of the symptoms of pneumonia and meningitis, along with chills, a drop in blood pressure, and organ dysfunction severe enough to require ICU care.
Vaccines are recommended for all children and for certain adults–those age 65 years and older, and adults age 19 to 64 years with certain risk conditions. Still, many at-risk adults have not been vaccinated against pneumococcal disease.
Talk to a healthcare professional about pneumococcal vaccination.
Reviewed December 2019
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
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