What are pneumococcal infections?
Pneumococcal infections are caused by bacteria (germs) called Streptococcus pneumoniae. These bacteria can cause infections in many different parts of the body, including the:
How do pneumococcal infections spread?
- The germs spread from the nose and throat through coughing and sneezing when other people are close by. They can also spread through saliva by kissing or sharing things like food, cups, water bottles, straws, toothbrushes, or a musical instrument with a mouthpiece.
- Children in child care settings are at greater risk of infection because they are more likely to share mouthed items such as toys with other children while playing.
How can you tell if you have a pneumococcal infection?
The symptoms of a pneumococcal infection depend on what part(s) of the body is affected. The diagnosis is made by finding pneumococcus in blood, the infected fluid or tissue.
Meningitis (brain infection)
- Meningitis is a serious disease that affects the brain and spinal cord.
- Symptoms include high fever, and loss of appetite, stiff neck, headache, vomiting, fussiness (crying), difficulty waking up (drowsiness).
- Meningitis can cause seizures, deafness or brain damage.
- Without treatment, all children who get this disease will die.
Bacteremia (bloodstream infection)
- Bacteremia is caused when bacteria get into the blood.
- Symptoms include high fever, headache, vomiting, fussiness, and loss of appetite.
- If the bacteria multiply rapidly they may cause shock (sudden severe drop in blood pressure) and damage to many parts of the body.
- Infection may spread from the blood to bone or joints.
Pneumonia (lung infection)
- People with pneumonia have trouble breathing.
- Children who get pneumonia from the pneumococcal germ get ill very quickly.
- They will have a fever, a cough, chest pain and may bring up thick yellow or green mucous.
Otitis media (middle ear infection)
- Many different germs can cause ear infections. Pneumococcus is the most common cause.
- Middle ear infections usually start a few days after the start of a cold.
- Middle ear infections cause ear pain, lack of energy, fussiness, waking up at night, and a lack of appetite. Some children get a fever.
- The sinuses are air-filled spaces in the bone of the face. Pneumococcus is the most common cause of sinusitis.
- Sinusitis causes pain and tenderness over the sinuses, and sometimes fever.
Each of these infections can also be caused by other germs. The pneumococcal vaccine will not protect your child from infections that are caused by another germ.
How are pneumococcal infections treated?
People with serious pneumococcal infections need to take antibiotics to get better. But in some serious infections even with antibiotics, the germ can cause permanent damage. Middle ear infections often go away without antibiotics.
How can I protect my child from pneumococcal infections?
More information from the CPS:
Reviewed by the following CPS committees:
- Infectious Diseases and Immunization Committee
Last Updated: August 2015