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Fact Sheet: Pneumococcal Disease

What is pneumococcal disease?

Pneumococcal disease is a severe bacterial infection caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae also called pneumococcus. It may cause pneumonia, meningitis or a blood stream infection (bacteremia).

Who gets pneumococcal disease?

Although anyone can get pneumococcal disease, it occurs more frequently in infants, in the elderly or in people with serious underlying medical conditions such as chronic lung, heart or kidney disease. Others at risk include alcoholics, diabetics, people with weakened immune systems and those without a spleen.

How is pneumococcal disease spread?

The pneumococcus is spread by direct contact or by exposure to respiratory droplets from a person who is infected or carrying the bacteria.

How soon after exposure do symptoms occur?

The incubation period may vary, but it is generally one to three days.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms may include fever, chills, headache, cough, chest pain, disorientation, shortness of breath and occasionally stiff neck.

How is pneumococcal disease diagnosed?

Doctors are able to diagnose pneumococcal disease based on the type of symptoms exhibited by the patient and laboratory cultures of sputum, blood or spinal fluid.

How is it treated?

Prompt treatment with antibiotics, such as penicillin or a cephalosporin, is usually effective. However, penicillin-resistant strains of pneumococcus have occasionally been reported. They may require the use of other antibiotics such as vancomycin.

Is there a vaccine to prevent infection?

Yes. A reasonably effective vaccine has been available for a number of years. Although it is safe and inexpensive, it is underutilized. Patients in high-risk categories should ask their health-care provider or local health department about pneumococcal vaccine.

Source: New York Department of Health, April 1996
Issued by: The Oregon Health Services
Date: January, 1999


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