Pneumococcus can be found in the nasopharynx of a normal, healthy adults or children. It can be passed from one child to another in droplets that are release into the air by sneezing and coughing.
Pneumococcus can cause meningitis (infection of the lining of the brain or spinal cord), bacteraemia (blood infection), pneumonia (infection of the lungs), as well as otitis media (infection of the middle ear).
Bacteraemia (blood infection) occurs when bacteria enter the bloodstream and cause infection of the blood. It can also develop into meningitis. The symptoms of bacteraemia include fever, irritability and rapid breathing.
Pneumonia (infection of the lungs) is one of the most common disease caused by pneumococcus. The incubation period is short, just in one to three days. Patients may experience fever, cough, production of the phlegm, shaking chills, chest congestion and shortness of breath.
Otitis media (infection of the middle ear) can also be caused by pneumococcus, although it can be due to other causes. The symptoms include earache, fever and frequent tugging of the ear.
Children attending child-care or kindergartens
Kids younger than 5 years of age
Those who have poor immunity
Those who have congenital heart diseases
Those who undergone organ or bone marrow transplants
Those who have history of middle ear infection
Children exposed to second hand cigarette smoke
Pneumococcal disease is often not easily diagnosed because its symptoms may be similar to common cold. However, doctors are able to diagnose pneumococcal disease based on type of symptoms exhibited by the patient and also based on specific laboratory cultures of sputum, blood or spinal fluid.
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According to the World Health Organization's current estimates, one child dies of a pneumococcal disease every minute. Pneumococcal infection can cause ear infection, sinus infection, pneumonia, blood infection (bacteremia), and meningitis (infection of the covering of the brain). About 1 out of every 20 people who get pneumococcal pneumonia dies from it, as do about 2 out of every 10 who get bacteremia, and 3 out of 10 who get meningitis. Pneumococcal disease kills more people in the United States every year than all other vaccine-preventable diseases combined.
What is pneumococcal disease?
Pneumococcal disease is a severe bacterial infection caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae, also called pneumococcus. It may cause pneumonia, meningitis or a blood stream infection (bacteremia).
Who gets pneumococcal disease?
Although anyone can get pneumococcal disease, it occurs more frequently in infants, young children, African Americans, some Native American populations, the elderly or in people with serious underlying medical conditions such as chronic lung, heart or kidney disease. Others at risk include alcoholics, diabetics, people with weakened immune systems and those without a spleen.
How is the disease transmitted?
The pneumococcus is spread by airborne or direct exposure to respiratory droplets from a person who is infected or carrying the bacteria?
When does pneumococcal disease occur?
Infections occur most often during the winter and early spring when respiratory illnesses are more common.
How soon after exposure do symptoms occur?
The incubation period may vary but it is generally one to three days.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms generally include an abrupt onset of fever and shaking or chills. Other common symptoms may include headache, cough, chest pain, disorientation, shortness of breath, weakness and occasionally a stiff neck.
How is pneumococcal disease diagnosed?
Doctors are able to diagnose pneumococcal disease based on the type of symptoms exhibited by the patient and specific laboratory cultures of sputum, blood or spinal fluid.
How is it treated?
Prompt treatment with antibiotics, such as penicillin or cephalosporin, is usually effective. However, penicillin-resistant strains of pneumococcus are increasingly being reported throughout the United States.
Is there a vaccine to prevent infection?
Yes. There are two types of vaccines currently in use, one of which is approved for children less than two years of age. Both vaccines are safe and reduce disease occurrence. Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine is recommended for all children less than 24 months old and for children between 24 and 59 months old who are at high risk of disease. Older children and adults with risk factors may receive the pneumococcal polysaccaride vaccine. Patients in high-risk categories should ask their health care provider or local health department about pneumococcal vaccine.