Streptococcus pneumoniae is a type of bacteria that can cause pneumococcal disease.
Read on to learn more about S. pneumoniae bacteria (pneumococci), including the types of diseases it may cause and how you can protect yourself and others from infection.
Pneumococci bacteria commonly live in the human respiratory tract. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that between
Who’s most at risk for pneumococcal disease?
Older adults and young children
- chronic lung diseases, such as COPD and asthma
- sickle cell disease
- cerebrospinal fluid leaks
- chronic heart, liver, or renal diseases
- taking immunosuppressant drugs for autoimmune diseases or other conditions
Smoking cigarettes and excessive alcohol use may also increase your risk.
Pneumococcus can cause various infections that affect your lungs, brain, and other parts of your body. The symptoms may also vary depending on the body part affected.
Symptoms may include:
- breathing difficulties
- rapid breathing
- chest pain
- fever or chills
This type of pneumonia may also lead to life threatening complications, such as:
- infection that spreads from the lungs to your chest cavity (empyema)
- blockage of air to your lungs (endobronchial obstruction)
- pus buildup (lung abscess)
- lung collapse (atelectasis)
- inflammation of the heart’s outer lining (pericarditis)
Meningitis describes a serious and potentially fatal infection of the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms may include:
- neck stiffness
- poor eating and vomiting (in babies)
- sensitivity to light (photophobia)
Symptoms of this blood infection include fever, chills, and low alertness.
Sepsis describes your body’s overall response to an infection. Pneumococcal disease may also cause sepsis.
Symptoms of sepsis include:
- extreme chills
- clamminess or sweating
- significant muscle and joint pain
- shortness of breath
- increased heart rate
If left untreated, sepsis may cause permanent damage to your:
While there are many causes of sinusitis, some sinus infections are due to pneumococcus.
Symptoms of sinusitis can include:
- a productive cough
- shortness of breath
- chest pain
- low grade fever
- ear pain
- swelling and redness of the eardrum
While a physical exam and your symptoms can help a doctor diagnose pneumococcal disease, the only way to know if you have this type of bacterial infection is through lab testing.
A doctor will need to test a sample of your body fluids. They may do this through a urinary antigen test, which looks for C-polysaccharides in the sample. C-polysaccharides are antigens found on the cell walls of all pneumococci.
Another common method is gram staining. This method involves taking a fluid sample via a swab. They may use a variety of fluids, including urine, blood, and sputum.
Since bacteria cause pneumococcal disease, the main treatment is a course of oral antibiotics. Other treatments may involve supportive care or treating specific symptoms.
Although the protection rate is not 100%, pneumococcal vaccines can still help protect against most strains and related infections in both children and adults.
- your age
- whether you have any underlying conditions
- whether you have had previous pneumococcal vaccines
Talk with a medical professional to determine the vaccine or dosage that is best for you or your child.
Pneumococcal vaccines are safe for most people. But temporary side effects may occur, such as:
- redness, swelling, and pain at the injection site
- muscle aches
- loss of appetite
How often do I need a pneumococcus vaccine?
The number of times a doctor may recommend the pneumococcal vaccine depends on your vaccination history, age, and medical history.
Can I take antibiotics as a preventive measure?
No. You should only take antibiotics if you have a confirmed bacterial infection. Antibiotics don’t work against viral and fungal infections, and they can’t prevent bacterial infections from occurring. They also come with potential side effects.
Taking these medications when unnecessary can
Can I get pneumococcal disease more than once?
Yes. For example, children may be more prone to pneumococcal otitis media, with repeated infections possibly requiring the need for ear tubes.
Is pneumococcus fatal?
Pneumococcus can be fatal. According to the CDC, there were
Streptococcus pneumoniae is a common type of bacteria that many people carry in their respiratory tract without knowing it.
While not all strains cause illness, some may lead to a variety of pneumococcal diseases that can affect your lungs, brain, bloodstream, and other parts of your body. Some may even lead to life threatening complications.
To protect yourself:
- Stay away from others who may be sick.
- Follow common public health recommendations such as frequent handwashing and physical distancing.
- Talk with a doctor to see if you’re up to date on your vaccinations.