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Diagnosis and Treatment

Illustration of Lumbar puncture to collect sample of cerebrospinal fluid

Lumbar puncture is used to collect a sample of cerebrospinal fluid. Larger image.

Some pneumococcal infections are considered “invasive.” Invasive disease means that germs invade parts of the body that are normally free from germs.

Early diagnosis and treatment are very important for invasive pneumococcal disease. It is important to know if it is pneumococcal disease because the treatment will change depending on the cause. In the case of pneumococcal disease, antibiotics can help prevent severe illness.


If invasive pneumococcal disease, like meningitis or bloodstream infections, is suspected, samples of cerebrospinal fluid or blood are collected and sent to a laboratory for testing.

If pneumococcus bacteria are present with invasive disease, they can be grown (cultured). Growing the bacteria in a laboratory is important for:

  • Confirming the presence of bacteria
  • Identifying the specific type of bacteria that is causing the infection
  • Deciding which antibiotic will work best

For non-invasive pneumococcal disease, like ear and sinus infections, diagnosis is usually made by a healthcare professional based on a history that supports pneumococcal infection and findings of a physical exam.


Pneumococcal disease is treated with antibiotics. However, many types of pneumococcal bacteria have become resistant to some of the antibiotics used to treat these infections. Available data [5.24 MB, 114 pages] show that pneumococcal bacteria are resistant to one or more antibiotics in 3 out of every 10 cases.

3 out of 20 resistant germs

Pneumococcal bacteria are resistant to one or more antibiotics in 3 out of every 10 cases.

Antibiotic sensitivity testing shows which antibiotics will be most successful at treating a bacterial infection.

Antibiotic treatment for invasive pneumococcal infections typically includes ‘broad-spectrum’ antibiotics until results of antibiotic sensitivity testing are available. Broad-spectrum antibiotics work against a wide range of bacteria. Once the sensitivity of the bacteria is known, a more targeted (or 'narrow spectrum') antibiotic may be selected.

With success of the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine, we see much less antibiotic-resistant pneumococcal infections. In addition to the vaccine, appropriate use of antibiotics may also slow or reverse drug-resistant pneumococcal infections.