Pneumococcal disease (pneumonia)

Pneumococcal disease

According to UNICEF in November 2019, one child dies of pneumonia every 39 seconds. Pneumonia is a preventable disease. Pneumonia kills more children than any other infection. link

Pneumococcal disease is caused by common bacteria (Streptococcus pneumoniae) which can attack different parts of the body. When these bacteria invade the lungs, they can cause pneumonia; when they invade the bloodstream, they can cause sepsis; and when they invade the covering of the brain, they can cause meningitis. The bacteria can also cause middle ear infection (otitis media) and sinusitis. link

Illnesses range from mild infections, such as ear infection, to pneumonia and life-threatening infections of the bloodstream and central nervous system, such as meningitis. Immunisation can substantially reduce the risk of infection, especially in young children. link

Many people carry Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria in their nose and throat. The bacteria are transferred to another person through droplets of saliva or mucus, such as when a ‘carrier’ sneezes, coughs, shares toys or kisses someone. 

Most of the time, this doesn’t cause any illness. However, vulnerable people may develop pneumococcal disease. The immune system is unable to keep the bacteria in check, which then multiply out of control and spread to other areas of the body. link

Symptoms of pneumococcal pneumonia (lung infection)

  • fever
  • cough
  • shortness of breath
  • chest pain
  • rapid breathing

Symptoms of pneumococcal meningitis (infection of the tissue covering the brain and spinal cord)

  • stiff neck
  • headache
  • fever
  • mental confusion
  • comas

Symptoms of pneumococcal bloodstream infection

  • similar to pneumonia and meningitis
  • chills
  • drop in blood pressure
  • organ disfunction requiring ICU care


Vaccines are recommended for all children and for certain adults–those age 65 years and older, and adults age 19 to 64 years with certain risk conditions.

People can get pneumococcal disease more than once. A previous pneumococcal infection will not protect you from future infection. Therefore, CDC recommends pneumococcal vaccines even if someone has had pneumococcal disease in the past. link