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Facts About...


What is it?

Pneumococcal diseases are caused by bacteria which can cause infections in the blood (bacteremia), membranes covering the brain (meningitis), lungs (pneumonia), middle ear (otitis media or middle ear infection) and sinuses. Severe infections can be fatal.

Pneumococcal diseases are more common during the winter and early spring months. Infants and young children, the elderly, and people with certain medical conditions and immune deficiencies are at an increased risk for pneumococcal diseases.

How is it spread?

The bacteria that cause pneumococcal disease are found in the nose and mouth of an infected person and are spread through close, direct contact (e.g., kissing, coughing, and sneezing). The bacteria are not spread by casual contact or by breathing the air where an infected person has been. Healthy individuals can carry the bacteria and pass it on to others without becoming ill. If infected, a person is considered non-infectious after 24-48 hours of effective antibiotic treatment.

What do I look for?

Infants and young children with a pneumococcal infection in the blood usually present with fever and fussiness. Symptoms of pneumococcal meningitis include fever, headache, neck stiffness, nausea, vomiting, confusion, sleepiness and sensitivity of the eyes to light. Newborns and infants may appear listless, fussy, or feed poorly.

If these symptoms are present, see a doctor/health care provider right away. A spinal tap (lumbar puncture) may be required so the doctor can examine the fluid for bacteria around the brain and spinal cord. A blood test may also be done to test for bacteria in the blood.

In adults and older children, symptoms of pneumonia include sudden onset with chills, fever, shortness of breath, cough with phlegm, difficulty breathing, and chest pain that is worsened by breathing deeply. Infants and young children usually have fever, vomiting, cough, rapid breathing, and poor feeding. Most infants and children with middle ear infections have a sore ear. Infants may pull at the infected ear and cry in pain. Fussiness, fever and sleepiness usually accompany an ear infection.

How is it treated?

Pneumococcal diseases are treated with antibiotics. When prescribed, people should take antibiotics as directed and take until completed.

Close contacts of people who are sick with pneumococcal disease do not require preventative antibiotics.

How can I protect myself?

April 2014