What is Pneumococcal Disease?
Pneumococcal disease is the generalized term for an infection caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria, which can cause many types of illnesses. These include pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections, meningitis and bacteremia. Pneumococcus bacteria is generally spread through coughing, sneezing and close contact with an infected person. These bacteria exist around the world, and is more commonly seen in areas where routine vaccination against pneumococcal bacteria is not used. For this reason, it is more common in developing countries, and travellers should take care to avoid getting sick.
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Pneumococcal Disease?
Pneumococcal bacteria will cause different symptoms depending on which part of the body is infected. They can include fever, cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, confusion and disorientation, joint pain, chills, ear pain, still neck, light sensitivity, sleeplessness and irritability, and in severe cases hearing loss, brain damage and death. Severe cases are generally seen in young children, elders and people with lowered immune systems.
Where am I Most at Risk?
As this disease occurs around the world, the risk is everywhere. Despite this, you are more likely to contract the pneumococcal disease if travelling to countries where pneumococcal conjugate vaccines are not used routinely. Outbreaks of the disease are more common during winter, and in developing areas. Travelers should avoid crowded setting or close contact with children and sick people in countries where risk is higher. Outbreaks still occur in developed countries where vaccines are common, due to the high level of contagiousness of the bacteria.
Certain people are at a higher risk for illness. These include senior citizens, children younger than 2 years of age and people who have weakened immune systems from medical conditions. People with asthma or those who smoke are also at an increased risk of pneumococcal disease.
How Can I Prevent Pneumococcal Disease?
The most effective way of preventing contraction of this disease is to get a pneumococcal vaccine. This vaccine provides you with the most protection against pneumococcal disease and is recommended for everyone travelling to developing countries or working in higher risk areas such as day cares, schools, nursing homes and hospitals.
Adults 65 years and older should receive the 23-valent pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine or PPSV23. People who smoke regularly or who have compromised immune systems should also get this vaccine as a preventative measure. A dose of PCV13 is recommended for children and people with certain medical conditions.
When travelling, it is recommended that you take precautions such as maintaining personal hygiene, washing hands often or using hand sanitizer, avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unclean hands, and avoiding contact with ill people. Remember to always cover your mouth with a tissue or your sleeve when coughing or sneezing.
What do I do if I Have Pneumococcal Disease?
If you feel sick and have reason to believe you may have some form of a Pneumococcal disease, talk to your doctor immediately to see what treatment is best for you. Otherwise, avoid contact with healthy people to prevent the spread of the bacteria until your symptoms have subsided. Pneumococcal Disease is rarely deadly, and will usually clear up with antibiotic treatment. If symptoms persist or worsen, get immediate medical attention.
Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (2017). Pneumococcal disease information. Retrieved from: