Pneumococcal pneumonia is a bacterial infection that affects the lungs. It is the most common bacterial illness and can develop into a serious disorder with potentially dangerous side effects.
In 2019, 2.5 million people died from pneumonia worldwide, with almost a third being children under 5.¹
While pneumococcal infections affect everyone, children younger than two and adults over 65 are at higher risk. Let’s learn about pneumonia and how to minimize your risk.
We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Pneumonia, and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.
A Gram-positive bacteria called Streptococcus pneumoniae causes pneumococcal pneumonia. This type of bacteria is typically spread through coughing, sneezing, and close contact.
Once you’re infected, Streptococcus pneumoniae tends to colonize in the nasopharynx (upper part of the throat behind the nose), where it can spread to the respiratory tract and lead to pneumococcal pneumonia.
Streptococcus pneumoniae is a relatively common bacteria, infecting over 900,000 people in the US annually.²
Pneumococcal pneumonia is a bacterial lung disease that can result in serious symptoms. These can develop quickly and last for weeks. Common symptoms of pneumococcal pneumonia include:
Older adults may experience confusion or low alertness
While some of the symptoms of pneumococcal pneumonia may be similar to a cold or flu, it’s a very different type of illness. Viruses cause the common cold and the flu, whereas pneumococcal pneumonia is the result of a bacterial infection.
When the bacteria Streptococcus pneumoniae gets into your respiratory system, it causes inflammation and other responses that lead to serious flu-like symptoms.
It can also cause several complications, including:
Empyema: Infection in the chest cavity and around the lungs
Endobronchial obstruction: Blockage of the airway that allows air into the lungs
Pericarditis: Inflammation of the heart’s outer lining
Atelectasis: Collapsed lung tissue
An abscess: Collection of pus in the lungs
Pneumococcal pneumonia is most likely to occur in very young children, older adults, and people with other medical conditions. Conditions that can increase your risk of developing pneumococcal pneumonia include:
Certain types of medications can increase your risk of pneumococcal pneumonia, specifically immunosuppressive drugs. These include medications that treat:
Irritable bowel disease
Pneumococcal disease spreads through close contact or coughing and sneezing, transferring the Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria from one person to another.
Pneumococcal pneumonia can be hard to diagnose because its common symptoms feature in other illnesses like colds or the flu. Diagnosis of pneumococcal pneumonia largely focuses on identifying the Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria.
Diagnosis will start with your doctor taking your medical history and providing a physical exam, which may include listening to your lungs.
If your doctor thinks you might have pneumococcal pneumonia, they may send you for a blood or sputum test to identify bacteria types.
Your doctor may need further tests to understand the severity of your symptoms, such as:
Pulse oximetry or arterial blood gas test
Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria cause pneumococcal pneumonia, whereas pneumonia refers to a lung infection, whether bacterial, fungal, or viral.
Treatment of pneumococcal pneumonia relies on antibiotics to kill the Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria causing the illness.
However, this strain of pneumococcal bacteria has developed resistance to some types of antibiotics. It’s important to use antibiotics appropriately against pneumococcal pneumonia.
Doctors use these types of antibiotics to treat pneumococcal pneumonia:
Intravenous amoxicillin-clavulanic acid
While current treatment focuses on antibiotics, research has discovered that our immune systems can sometimes underreact or overreact to infections like pneumococcal pneumonia.³ This is called a dysregulated immune response.
When your immune system underreacts, the infection can overwhelm your system. When it overreacts, your body starts attacking healthy cells, organs, and tissues.
Researchers have noted that future therapies that focus on the inflammatory response could be useful in avoiding complications.
Vaccinations are available for pneumococcal pneumonia. These are key to managing the condition and reducing infection rates.
Pneumococcal vaccines don’t contain the live Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria, so you don’t have to worry about infection through vaccination. Another benefit of pneumococcal vaccines is that you don’t have to get them yearly, like the flu vaccine.
Talk to your doctor if you’re interested in the pneumococcal vaccine. They’ll be able to determine if it’s a good fit for you and advise you on funding eligibility.
Pneumococcal pneumonia is a bacterial infection that can lead to serious symptoms. Young children, older adults, and immunocompromised people are at particular risk of infection.
Doctors treat pneumococcal pneumonia with antibiotics. However, this bacterial strain is becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotic treatment, highlighting the importance of pneumococcal vaccines. Vaccination can reduce your risk of getting it in the first place. Speak to your doctor for more information on the vaccine.
Pneumonia | Our World in Data
Pneumococcal pneumonia (2012)
Symptoms and complications | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Which individuals are at increased risk of pneumococcal disease and why? Impact of COPD, asthma, smoking, diabetes, and/or chronic heart disease on community-acquired pneumonia and invasive pneumococcal disease (2015)
Incidence and risk factors for invasive pneumococcal disease in HIV-infected and non-HIV-infected individuals before and after the introduction of combination antiretroviral therapy: Persistent high risk among HIV-infected injecting drug users (2014)
Tests for lung disease | NIH: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
What is pneumococcal pneumonia? | Know Pneumonia
Pneumococcal pneumonia fast facts | American Lung Association
Some symptoms may be severe and last for weeks | Know Pneumonia
What causes pneumonia? | American Lung Association
Age or chronic health conditions can put you at higher risk. | Know Pneumonia
Pneumonia symptoms and diagnosis | American Lung Association