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).
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).
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.
Infections occur most often during the winter and early spring, and less frequently during the summer.
The incubation period may vary, but is generally from 1 to 3 days.
Symptoms may include fever, chills, headache, ear pain, cough, chest pain, disorientation, shortness of breath and occasionally stiff neck.
Pneumococcal disease is diagnosed by isolating the bacteria from the blood, spinal fluid, middle ear, lungs, or other bodily fluids.
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.
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 .
The New York City Department of Health monitors antibiotic resistant pneumococcal disease in New York City .
Vaccines are available that can help prevent pneumococcal disease, which is any type of infection caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria. There are two kinds of pneumococcal vaccines available in the United States:
Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine is recommended for all babies and children younger than 2 years old, all adults 65 years or older, and people 2 through 64 years old with certain medical conditions. Pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine is recommended for all adults 65 years or older, people 2 through 64 years old who are at increased risk for disease due to certain medical conditions, and adults 19 through 64 years old who smoke cigarettes. Talk with your or your child’s healthcare professional if you have questions about pneumococcal vaccines.
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.