About Pneumococcal Disease

Key points

  • Pneumococcal disease is a serious bacterial infection caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae.
  • Anyone can get pneumococcal disease, but certain people are at increased risk.
  • Keeping up to date with recommended vaccines is the best protection against pneumococcal disease.
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What it is

Pneumococcal disease is a name for any infection caused by bacteria called Streptococcus pneumoniae, or pneumococcus.

A computer-generated image of Streptococcus pneumoniae based on scanning electron microscopic imagery.
This image of Streptococcus pneumoniae was computer generated.


S. pneumoniae bacteria can cause many types of infections, including:

  • Pneumonia (lung infection)
  • Meningitis (infection of the lining of the brain and spinal cord)
  • Bacteremia (bloodstream infection)
  • Otitis media (middle ear infection)
  • Sinusitis (sinus infection)


Symptoms and complications depend on the part of the body that's infected.

Risk factors

Anyone can get pneumococcal disease, but some people are at increased risk.

Keep Reading: Risk Factors

How it spreads

People spread pneumococcal bacteria to others through direct contact with respiratory secretions, like saliva or mucus.

Keep Reading: Causes and Spread


People can get pneumococcal disease more than once.

Healthcare providers generally don't prescribe antibiotics after exposure to help prevent someone from getting a pneumococcal infection.

However, there are steps people can take to help protect themselves.


Vaccination is the best way to prevent pneumococcal disease. CDC recommends pneumococcal vaccination for

  • All children younger than 5 years old
  • People 5 through 64 years old with certain risk conditions
  • Adults 65 years or older

Testing and diagnosis

Serious infections

If healthcare providers suspect meningitis or a bloodstream infection, they will collect samples of cerebrospinal fluid or blood. Cerebrospinal fluid is the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord.

They then send the samples to a laboratory for testing. Growing the bacteria in a laboratory helps identify the specific type of bacteria causing the infection. Laboratories may also use molecular detection methods to test for these bacteria in samples. Knowing the cause helps healthcare providers choose the right treatment, including which antibiotic will work best.

Healthcare providers can use a urine test to help make a diagnosis of pneumococcal pneumonia in adults.

Mild infections

Healthcare providers usually diagnose ear and sinus infections based on a history and physical exam findings that support pneumococcal infection.


Healthcare providers use antibiotics to treat pneumococcal disease. However, some pneumococcal bacteria have become resistant to certain antibiotics used to treat these infections. Antibiotic testing shows which antibiotics will be most successful at treating the infection.