Pneumococcal Disease (Streptococcus pneumoniae)

What is pneumococcal disease?

Pneumococcal disease is caused by bacteria called Streptococcus pneumoniae . These bacteria may cause infections of the lung (pneumonia), middle ear (otitis media), lining of the brain (meningitis), and blood (bacteremia).

Who gets pneumococcal disease?

Although anyone can get pneumoccal disease, it most commonly occurs among young children, the elderly, or among people with serious underlying medical conditions, such as chronic lung, heart, or kidney disease. Others at risk include alcoholics, diabetics, and people with sickle cell anemia, or immunocompromising conditions such as HIV/AIDS, or those without a spleen (asplenia).

How is pneumococcal disease spread?

The Pneumococcus bacteria is carried in the upper respiratory tract. It is spread by airborne or direct exposure to respiratory droplets from a person who is infected or carrying the bacteria. However, illness among casual contacts is infrequent.

When does pneumococcal disease occur?

Infections occur most often during the winter and early spring, and less frequently during the summer.

How soon after infection do symptoms occur?

The incubation period may vary, but is generally from 1 to 3 days.

What are the symptoms of pneumococcal disease?

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

How is pneumococcal disease diagnosed?

Pneumococcal disease is diagnosed by isolating the bacteria from the blood, spinal fluid, middle ear, lungs, or other bodily fluids.

How is pneumococcal disease treated?

Prompt treatment with antibiotics, such as penicillin, is usually effective. However, the number of penicillin-resistant pneumococcal infections is increasing. These cases require treatment with more powerful antibiotics.

What is being done to monitor pneumococcal disease in New York City?

The most serious pneumococcal infections (e.g., infections of the blood, joints, or central nervous system) must be reported to the New York City Department of Health. For data on pneumococcal disease in New York City visit EpiQuery .

What is being done to monitor antibiotic resistance among pneumococcal infections?

The New York City Department of Health monitors antibiotic resistant pneumococcal disease in New York City .

Is there a vaccine that can prevent infections?

Yes. There are two different vaccines - one primarily for adults and one for children. The vaccine for adults has been available for many years and is called the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (Pneumovax or Pnu-Imune). It is effective in preventing the most serious complications of pneumococcal infection. The pediatric vaccine is called the pneumococal conjugate vaccine (Prevnar) and is only for use in children under 5 years of age.

Who should receive the Pneumococcal Polysaccharide Vaccine?

  • All adults 65 years of age and older.
  • All persons 2 years of age and older with:
    • chronic illness such as diabetes, heart or lung diseases;
    • anatomic or functional asplenia (without a spleen);
    • immunocompromised conditions (due to disease, cancer, chemotherapy, or steroids);
    • HIV infection.

Who should receive the Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine?

  • All children less than 24 months of age.
  • All children aged 24- 59 months with high risk medical conditions. Your child's doctor can tell you which vaccine your child should receive.

How can antibiotic resistance be prevented?

The increase in antibiotic resistance is partly due to the overuse and/or misuse of antibiotic medications. Antibiotics work against bacteria, not viruses. For example, common colds should not be treated with antibiotics, since they are caused by viruses. If your physician decides that an antibiotic is necessary (e.g., for suspected bacterial infections), it is important to take the medicine as directed and not stop just because you are feeling better. It is just as important to avoid antibiotics if your doctor does not think you have a bacterial infection. Never take antibiotics without a doctor's prescription.