Pneumococcal Pneumonia

What is Pneumococcal Pneumonia?

The term “pneumonia” refers to any infection of the lungs. Pneumonia can be caused by a variety of viruses, bacteria, and sometimes fungi. Pneumococcal pneumonia is caused by bacteria called Streptococcus pneumoniae (pneumococcus). Pneumococcal pneumonia infects the upper respiratory tract and can spread to the blood, lungs, middle ear, or nervous system.

How do you get Pneumococcal Pneumonia?

This infection is acquired by inhaling the bacteria that have been coughed into the air by an infected person. The bacteria can also reach the lungs via the bloodstream when introduced into the body at a different site, e.g. from the nose.

Susceptibility and Resistance

Previously healthy people can develop pneumococcal pneumonia, but the risk for acquiring the disease is highest among children younger than 2 years old and adults aged 64 years or older.

Susceptibility is also increased among certain populations including:  cigarette smokers; persons with underlying illnesses, such as anatomical or functional asplenia (loss of the spleen), sickle cell disease, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cirrhosis, Hodgkin’s disease, alcoholism, lymphoma, multiple myeloma, chronic renal failure, nephritic syndrome, HIV infection, and recent organ transplants.  Malnutrition and low birth weight are important risk factors among infants and young children in developing countries.

Incubation Period

The incubation period for Pneumococcal Pneumonia is 1-3 days.

What are the Symptoms?

Pneumococcal pneumonia usually begins abruptly, although the onset may be less sudden in elderly patients. The first signs of pneumonia in the elderly may be altered mental status, fever, and shortness of breath. General symptoms include:  initial severe shaking chills; high fever; fatigue; cough; shortness of breath; rapid breathing; chest pain; production of purulent (containing pus) or blood-tinged sputum; nausea; vomiting; headache.

Complications of pneumococcal pneumonia can include:  pneumococcal meningitis (inflammation of the linings of the brain), which presents with a stiff neck, headache, lethargy, or seizures; otitis media or sinusitis (inflammation of the ear and sinuses, respectively), both causing pain in the ears or sinuses; bacteremia (the bacteria invade the bloodstream from the lungs, causing further lung problems and certain heart problems); death, particularly in infants and the elderly.

Death rates vary widely. In developing countries,10 percent of children may die.  Among infants under the age of 6 months, the death rate can be as high as 60 percent.

Preventative Measures

There is a vaccine available for streptococcal pneumonia. As of 2008, 18 industrialized countries are routinely using pneumococcal conjugate vaccines, including Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, and other Western nations. As a result, the incidence of pneumococcal pneumonia in these areas has been dramatically reduced.

This vaccine is often given to elderly people (+65 years old) during the flu season when they may be most susceptible to developing a bacterial pneumonia when infected with the flu virus.


Pneumococcal infections are usually treated with antibiotics, and the symptoms will usually disappear within 12 to 36 hours after you begin taking the medication.

Many strains of S. pneumoniae are becoming resistant to penicillin, cephalosporin, macrolides, and other drugs, complicating treatment choices. Antibiotic resistance is increasing worldwide due to these medicines being overused or misused.



Where Does It Commonly Occur?

Pneumococcal pneumonia occurs worldwide in all climates and seasons but peaks in winter in temperate zones. The disease occurs more commonly in developing countries, in certain geographic areas (Papua New Guinea), and in certain ethnic groups such as Alaskan natives and Australian aboriginals. Infection is more frequent among malnourished populations and lower socioeconomic groups.