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Pneumococcal Pneumonia

Last updated Dec. 17, 2018

Approved by: Maulik P. Purohit MD, MPH

Pneumococcal Pneumonia is generally prevalent in young kids and older adults. Additionally, certain pre-existing conditions, such as chronic heart, lung, or liver diseases and sickle cell anemia, can make one vulnerable to the infection.

What are the other Names for this Condition? (Also known as/Synonyms)

  • Pneumonia caused by Streptococcus Pneumoniae
  • Streptococcus Pneumoniae Pneumonia

What is Pneumococcal Pneumonia? (Definition/Background Information)

  • Pneumonia is a lung infection that causes inflammation of air sacs in one or both lungs in an individual. As a result, the lungs can get filled with fluid resulting in various associated signs and symptoms
  • Among the many kinds of pneumonia, Pneumococcal Pneumonia is the most common type of pneumonia resulting from a bacterial infection. It is caused by the bacterium Streptococcus pneumoniae, also known as pneumococcus
  • Pneumococcal Pneumonia is generally prevalent in young kids and older adults. Additionally, certain pre-existing conditions, such as chronic heart, lung, or liver diseases and sickle cell anemia, can make one vulnerable to the infection
  • The symptoms of Pneumococcal Pneumonia include a sudden onset of chills, which might precede high fever, cough, chest pain, and shortness of breath. Additional symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, muscle aches, and fatigue may also be observed
  • Administration of antibiotics is the standard treatment for Pneumococcal Pneumonia, with the symptoms starting to clear in healthy individuals within 48-72 hours of starting medication
  • If Pneumococcal Pneumonia is not diagnosed and treated promptly, the infection could spread to the blood and cause serious harm to the internal organs
  • The prognosis depends on the health status of the patient. While those in good health are reported to recover within a few days, elderly individuals and those with pre-existing conditions may take several weeks to get back their normal health
  • Pneumococcal Pneumonia vaccine is available for those individuals who are considered to have a high risk for the condition. A healthcare professional will recommend the vaccine based on one’s age, health status, the presence of pre-existing conditions, and many other factors

Who gets Pneumococcal Pneumonia? (Age and Sex Distribution)

  • Pneumococcal Pneumonia occurs worldwide. According to a report by the World Health Organization, about 500,000 children under 5 years of age die from the disease annually; a majority of them in the developing countries (the condition constitutes about 5% of under-5 years’ child mortality)
  • Children under the age of 5 and older adults above 65 years of age are reported to be more susceptible to Pneumococcal Pneumonia, as are those with chronic illnesses and compromised immunity (HIV/AIDS patients, individuals having undergone recent organ transplantation, etc.)
  • Nevertheless, the disease could affect individuals of all ages and both genders

What are the Risk Factors for Pneumococcal Pneumonia? (Predisposing Factors)

Some risk factors for Pneumococcal Pneumonia include:

  • Being older than 65 years of age
  • Being younger than 5 years of age (particularly in developing countries)
  • Having certain chronic illnesses such as heart, lung (excluding asthma), or liver diseases
  • Being a diabetic
  • Being an alcoholic
  • Individuals with sickle cell anemia
  • Being immune-compromised owing to disease (HIV/AIDS) or drugs (post-organ transplantation)
  • Being a smoker

It is important to note that having a risk factor does not mean that one will get the condition. A risk factor increases ones chances of getting a condition compared to an individual without the risk factors. Some risk factors are more important than others.

Also, not having a risk factor does not mean that an individual will not get the condition. It is always important to discuss the effect of risk factors with your healthcare provider.

What are the Causes of Pneumococcal Pneumonia? (Etiology)

  • The causative organism of Pneumococcal Pneumonia is a bacterium, Streptococcus pneumoniae. This bacterium is also known as pneumococcus
  • Pneumococcus bacteria can reside in the throats of individuals without causing any symptoms
  • When the conditions are right, the bacteria multiply and infect the upper respiratory tract and subsequently one or both lungs. This leads to inflammation of the air sacs, which causes fluid to form and accumulate in the lungs
  • Pneumococcal Pneumonia is transmitted by those who harbor the bacteria in their throat, but do not have any symptoms, or by those with an active infection
  • The transmission occurs when an individual comes into contact with the infected respiratory droplets 

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Pneumococcal Pneumonia?

Some common symptoms of Pneumococcal Pneumonia include:

  • High fever, which may be preceded by a sudden onset of chills and shaking
  • Shortness of breath; shallow, rapid breathing 
  • Cough; chest pains
  • Headache and muscle aches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fatigue

If the infection enters the bloodstream, then organs other than the lungs may get affected. The following system/organ-specific symptoms may be observed:

  • Blood (pneumococcal bacteremia or sepsis)
    • Fever
    • Chills
    • Reduced alertness
  • Brain (pneumococcal meningitis)
    • Headache
    • Stiff neck
    • Inability to look at bright light owing to pain
    • Confusion
    • Fever
  • Heart (particularly in the elderly)
    • Cardiac arrhythmia or irregular heartbeats
    • Myocardial microlesions
    • Congestive heart failure

How is Pneumococcal Pneumonia Diagnosed?

A healthcare provider may employ one or more of the following methods to accurately diagnose Pneumococcal Pneumonia:

  • A thorough physical examination
  • Understanding personal medical history
  • An assessment of symptoms
  • Sputum and blood test, as necessary
  • Chest x-ray
  • Lumbar puncture and collection of cerebrospinal fluid, when spread of the disease to the CNS is suspected
  • Culture of body fluids; in order to identify the type of bacterium causing infection/pneumonia, and the most effective antibiotic to be used to combat the disease

Many clinical conditions may have similar signs and symptoms. Your healthcare provider may perform additional tests to rule out other clinical conditions to arrive at a definitive diagnosis.

What are the possible Complications of Pneumococcal Pneumonia?

Some potential complications of Pneumococcal Pneumonia could include:

  • A progression to more invasive forms of the disease, when the bacteria migrate to the bloodstream, causing bacteremia (It is estimated that the infection enters the bloodstream in about 30% of the individuals)
  • Bacteremia: It is a serious complication that results in infection spread to certain vital organs
  • Pneumococcal meningitis, when the infection spreads to the lining of the brain
  • When the heart is affected, particularly in the elderly, leading to irregular heartbeats, small lesions in the heart (microlesions) and congestive heart failure
  • Treatment failure owing to the causative strain of Streptococcus pneumoniae being antibiotic-resistant (drug-resistant)

How is Pneumococcal Pneumonia Treated?

  • Pneumococcal Pneumonia is generally treated with antibiotics. It is recommended that the antibiotics course be completed, regardless of symptoms subsiding in the middle of treatment 
  • However, there are some drug-resistant strains of Streptococcus pneumoniae, which are known to survive the antibiotics generally prescribed for the disease
  • In such instances, a healthcare provider is likely to request for a culture, and use effective treatment measures against that particular type of bacterium

How can Pneumococcal Pneumonia be Prevented?

  • Getting vaccinated against Pneumococcal Pneumonia is the most effective way of preventing the disease
  • In order to reduce the spread of drug-resistant strains of Streptococcus pneumoniae as well as other bacterial species, completing the course of antibiotics prescribed for an illness is strongly recommended
  • Stopping the indiscriminate use of antibiotics would also contribute significantly to the global efforts to prevent the emergence of drug-resistant bacteria

What is Prognosis of Pneumococcal Pneumonia? (Outcomes/Resolutions)

  • The prognosis of Pneumococcal Pneumonia is dictated by the general health of the individual
    • Healthy individuals typically respond to antibiotics within 2-3 days and recover completely within a short duration of time
    • However, those who are in poor or frail health may not recover for up to several weeks
  • If complications develop, individuals in poor health with a compromised immune system may have a poor prognosis and may even succumb to the disease 

Additional and Relevant Useful Information for Pneumococcal Pneumonia:

Pneumococcal Pneumonia is reported to lead to thousands of hospitalizations and many deaths annually in the United States.

What are some Useful Resources for Additional Information?

References and Information Sources used for the Article:

Helpful Peer-Reviewed Medical Articles:

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: March 18, 2016
Last updated: Dec. 17, 2018