Pneumococcal Basics for Adults

The best way to prevent pneumococcal disease is for adults to be vaccinated.

On this page:
Pneumococcal vaccines
What is pneumococcal disease?

Treatment and antibiotics

Pneumococcal vaccine

Two vaccines are available to prevent pneumococcal disease.

What is pneumococcal disease?

Pneumococcal disease is an infection caused by a type of bacteria called Streptococcus pneumoniae. It can cause pneumonia, bloodstream infections, or meningitis.

Pneumococcal pneumonia is the most common type of bacterial pneumonia. Death rates for pneumococcal pneumonia in adults are 15-20% and as high as 40% among elderly patients. Pneumococcal pneumonia is especially severe in adults over 65 years of age and in persons of any age who have chronic medical problems such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart disease including congestive heart failure, diabetes, alcohol abuse, kidney failure, cancers, and weakened immune systems from disease or drug treatments. Pneumococcal pneumonia is also more common in smokers and persons with HIV-infection.

Pneumococcal meningitis - S. pneumoniae is the leading cause of bacterial meningitis among children and adults in the United States. Death rates from pneumococcal meningitis are approximately 20-50% in adults. Pneumococcal meningitis can result in permanent damage to the brain and nervous system, learning deficits and deafness.

Severe pneumococcal infections are more common in:

  • adults over 65 years of age and children less than 2 years.
  • persons with underlying medical conditions such as sickle cell disease, HIV infection, and those with no or poorly functioning spleens.
  • Black persons, Alaskan Natives and American Indians.
  • Pneumococcal Disease
    More information on Pneumococcal disease from the CDC. Attention: Non-MDH link

Treatment and antibiotics

Until recently, pneumococcal infections could be treated effectively with antibiotics. Recently, many pneumococcal bacteria are becoming resistant to commonly used antibiotics making treatment more difficult. For this reason, it is desirable to prevent pneumococcal infections through vaccination, rather than depend on antibiotic treatment after infection occurs.

Updated Tuesday, November 16, 2010 at 12:21PM