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Pneumococcal Disease

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. These invasive infections are serious, often require treatment in the hospital, and can lead to death. The bacteria can also cause milder common conditions like middle-ear infection (otitis media) and sinusitis.


Pneumococcal disease is a leading cause of serious illness throughout the world. In the US, pneumococcal pneumonia causes at least 150,000 hospitalizations each year. About 1 in 20 individuals who get pneumococcal pneumonia will die. The death rate is 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 higher, even with proper treatment.


The symptoms of pneumococcal pneumonia (which are similar to pneumonia caused by other organisms) 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.

In the US, there are two types of pneumococcal vaccines currently available and recommended for different groups of people. Talk to a healthcare professional about pneumococcal vaccination.


Antibiotics may be used to treat pneumococcal disease. However, antibiotic resistance does occur with pneumococcal bacteria. Treatment may start with a broad-spectrum antibiotic, which works against a wide range of bacteria. After testing, once the sensitivity of the bacteria is known, a more targeted antibiotic may be selected.


Reviewed September 2021

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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