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Pneumoccocal Disease

Fact Sheet

What is pneumococcal disease?

Pneumococcal disease is caused by bacteria called pneumococcus or streptococcus pneumoniae. It is the most common cause of bacterial infections in children and adults. Many people have pneumococcal bacteria in their mouth, nose, and throat without becoming ill.

However, the bacteria can enter the blood, lungs, or lining of the brain causing invasive pneumococcal disease. Pneumococcal bacteria can also cause milder forms of pneumonia, sinus infections, and middle ear infections (otitis media), particularly in children.

How can I get pneumococcal disease?

These bacteria can be spread from the nose and throat of one person to another by close, direct contact like kissing, coughing, or sneezing. Infections can also be spread through saliva when people share things (i.e. food, utensils, drinking bottles, etc.).

What are the symptoms of pneumococcal disease?

Symptoms can start in as short as one to three days after contact with an infected person and can vary depending on where the bacteria enter the body.

If the bacterium enters the lungs, it can cause pneumococcal pneumonia. Common symptoms include sudden onset of high fever, chills, chest pain, difficulty breathing, increased heart rate, and a cough. In infants and young children, symptoms may include fever, vomiting, and seizures.

If the bacterium enters the bloodstream, it can cause bacteremia. Common symptoms include high fever, muscle aches/pain, fatigue, and sleepiness.

If the bacterium enters the lining of the brain and spinal cord, it can cause meningitis. Common symptoms include headache, high fever, stiff neck, vomiting, confusion, and sensitivity to light. In small children, symptoms may include fever, irritability, poor appetite, and sleepiness.

When is someone with pneumococcal disease contagious?

The pneumococcal bacteria can be spread until the nose and mouth discharges of the infected person no longer have the bacteria or up until 24 hours of appropriate antibiotic treatment.

Who is at risk of getting pneumococcal disease?

  • chronic heart, kidney, or lung disease (except asthma)
  • no spleen or have a spleen that does not work properly
  • sickle cell disease
  • HIV infection
  • diseases that weaken the immune system
  • had an organ transplant
  • taking medications that suppress the immune system
  • cochlear implants (pre/post implant)
  • liver cirrhosis
  • diabetes
  • chronic cerebrospinal fluid leak

Anyone can get invasive pneumococcal disease, but some groups are at higher risk. Infants, people 65 years of age and older, and those with chronic health condition such as:

What should I do if I have symptoms of pneumococcal disease?

Seek medical attention from your health care provider (HCP). Good hand washing is also important to prevent the spread of the bacteria to others. It is also important to practice cough etiquette by covering your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve while you cough or sneeze. Avoid sharing items that have come in contact with saliva.

Can I get pneumococcal disease more than once?

Yes. Infection with one serogroup (strain) of the pneumococcal bacteria does not given protection against other strains of the bacteria.

How is pneumococcal disease treated?

People with pneumococcal disease can be treated with antibiotics.

What can I do to prevent pneumococcal disease?

The best way to prevent pneumococcal disease is through vaccination. In Ontario, pneumococcal vaccination is part of the publicly funded schedule for children, the elderly, and certain high risk groups.

Who should I talk to if I have more questions?

If you have more questions, call your health care provider or the Halton Region Health Department.