What is pneumococcal disease?
Pneumococcal diseases are infections caused by the bacteria Streptococcus pneumoniae. The most common types of infections caused by these bacteria are ear infections, pneumonia, bloodstream infections and meningitis (infections of the lining of the brain and spinal cord).
How is it spread?
The bacteria are spread through droplets from the nose or mouth of a person with a pneumococcal infection. It is common for people, especially children, to carry the bacteria in their throats without becoming ill from it.
Young children are much more likely than older children and adults to get pneumococcal disease, and it can be a very serious illness in young children, often requiring hospitalization. Recurrent ear infections can cause permanent hearing loss.
What are the symptoms?
Otitis media (ear infections) cause pain in the ear, and the eardrum is often red and swollen. Other symptoms may include sleeplessness, fever and irritability.
In adults, symptoms of pneumonia include sudden fever, chills, difficulty breathing and chest pain, and a wet cough. Infants and small children may have fever, cough, rapid breathing, or grunting.
Symptoms of meningitis include high fever, headache, and stiff neck. Other symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, confusion and sleepiness. In infants, the classic symptoms of headache and neck stiffness may be hard to identify. Babies with meningitis may appear inactive or irritable, and they may vomit, or not want to eat.
How is it treated?
Pneumococcal disease can be treated with medicines prescribed by a doctor.
Can it be prevented?
There is a vaccine for pneumococcal disease. It should be given to infants at 2, 4 and 6 months of age, with a booster dose given at 12-15 months. Older children should be given 2 or 3 doses at least two months apart. Ask your doctor or the Department of Health for more information about the vaccine.