Pneumococcal disease refers to any infection caused by a bacterium called Streptococcus pneumoniae, often known as pneumococcus. Pneumococcal infections include pneumonia, bacteremia, sinusitis, meningitis, and otitis media, and conditions can range from the ear and sinus to pneumonia and bloodstream infections. Two available vaccines can help prevent pneumococcal illnesses.
What Are the Symptoms of Pneumococcal Disease?Most pneumococcal infections are mild and may only require sufficient resting, pain killer medications such as paracetamol, and can depend on the part of the body that has been affected. However, some symptoms can result in long term complications.
The symptoms of pneumococcal diseases vary depending on the type of the disease. Examples of pneumococcal infections and their symptoms include:
- Otitis media causes inflammation of the middle ear. The inflammation will lead to fluid in the middle ear as well as swelling of the eardrum. Patients with otitis media may experience earache due to the swelling.
- Acute bronchitis is the inflammation of the airways. Due to blockage in the airways, patients may experience coughing and mucus production.
- Pneumonia is an infection that affects the lungs, specifically the alveoli. The condition can cause the alveoli to be filled with fluid or pus, causing a cough, fever, chills or trouble breathing.
- Meningitis is the swelling of the meninges due to the bacterial infection of the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord. The meninges consist of three membranes that cover the brain and the spinal cord.
- Osteomyelitis is the infection of the bone, which will cause pain in the long bones in the legs.
- Septic arthritis is a joint infection that can occur due to a bacterial infection travelling in the bloodstream. This will cause a sore and aching feeling in the joints.
- Bacteremia is when bacteria is present in the bloodstream and when the bacteria infects the blood. Symptoms of bacteremia include fever, chills, and reduced alertness. Bacteremia should be treated as soon as possible, as it can progress to a more severe condition called Sepsis.
- Sepsis (Septicemia) is a potentially life-threatening condition caused by the body’s response to the infection. Symptoms include high fever, chills, confusion, rapid heart rate, shortness of breath and increased body pain.
Severe pneumococcal infections may need to be treated with antibiotics. However, in recent years, pneumococcal bacteria have been resistant to one or more antibiotics in 3 out of every 10 cases, which makes preventing pneumococcal infections vital.
What Are the Risk Factors of Pneumococcal Diseases?
The risk of getting infected with pneumococcal diseases increases in individuals with weakened immune systems.
Therefore, people with pre-existing conditions such as diabetes, chronic heart, lung, liver or kidney disease, smokers, and people who have no spleen in addition to those who have cochlear implants are more likely to be infected by bacterial diseases. The risk will also increase in children younger than two years old or adults above 65.
How To Prevent Pneumococcal Disease?
Pneumococcal vaccines are available to prevent the potentially severe complications caused by pneumococcal diseases.
There are two types of pneumococcal vaccines available:
|Vaccine Name||Recommended Groups|
|Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine (PCV, also known as Prevnar 13)||This vaccine is recommended for babies and children younger than the age of 2 and those with certain medical conditions.|
|Pneumococcal Polysaccharide Vaccine (also known as Pneumovax 23)||This vaccine is recommended for adults 65 years or older, between 2 to 64 years old with medical conditions, and individuals from 19 to 64 years old who smoke cigarettes.|
Catching influenza can also increase the chances of getting infected with a pneumococcal disease; therefore, receiving the influenza vaccine can also decrease the risks of getting pneumococcal disease. In Hong Kong, PCV13 is included in the Hong Kong Childhood Immunisation Programme.
Individuals can also get pneumococcal disease more than once. As they are not protected from future infections, it is still recommended to receive the pneumococcal vaccines even after being infected with Streptococcus pneumoniae.
Pneumococcal disease is a range of infections caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae. The symptoms vary from mild to severe, depending on the type of infection. Speak to your medical practitioner for healthcare advice on the disease and the vaccinations available.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). ‘Pneumococcal Disease.’ CDC. 01 September 2021. Available at: <https://www.cdc.gov/pneumococcal/index.html> [Accessed 11 October 2021].
- The National Health Service. (2019). ‘Pneumococcal vaccine overview.’ NHS. 14 February 2019. Available at: <https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vaccinations/pneumococcal-vaccination/#:~:text=The%20pneumococcal%20vaccine%20protects%20against,poisoning%20(sepsis)%20and%20meningitis> [Accessed 11 October 2021].
- National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. (2020). ‘Pneumococcal Disease.’ NFID. September 2020. Available at: <https://www.nfid.org/infectious-diseases/pneumococcal/> [Accessed 11 October 2021].
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). ‘Diagnosis and treatment.’ CDC. 01 September 2020. Available at: <https://www.cdc.gov/pneumococcal/about/diagnosis-treatment.html> [Accessed 11 October 2021].