Pneumococcal diseases are infections caused by the bacterium Streptococcus pneumoniae, also known as pneumococcus. It can attack various parts of the body, including the brain, lungs and ears, causing serious illnesses in adults and children. There are more than 90 known pneumococcal types, with 10 most common ones that cause 62% of invasive diseases all over the world.
What does pneumococcus cause?
Pneumococci can cause several diseases. There are generally two types of pneumococcal diseases: Invasive diseases and non-invasive diseases.
Invasive diseases are more serious and cause diseases within a major organ, or the blood, including:
- Most common pneumococcal invasive disease.
- May start off with fever followed by chills, cough, shortness of breath, rapid breathing, chest pains, and tiredness
- If not treated, pneumococcus can spread to other parts of the body including the middle ear, nervous system and even the blood.
Bacteraemia (blood infection)
- A serious complication that occurs when the bacteria spreads and infects the blood.
- If not treated it may affect the functions of major organs leading to kidney failure, heart failure and eventually lead to septic shock Septic shock results in multi-organ dysfunction or failure and can be life-threatening!
Meningitis (inflammation of the meninges lining the brain and spinal cord)
- An extremely serious condition whereby the meninges are inflamed.
- Persons affected often show symptoms such as severe headache, vomiting, high fever, stiff neck, sensitivity to light, confusion and sleepiness.
- If untreated, more complications arise such as seizures, increasing drowsiness and coma.
- Long term complications include permanent neurological damage eg hearing loss, speech impairment, learning disabilities, blindness, cerebral palsy and epilepsy.
- Meningitis has one of the highest fatality rates, with most cases affecting children under the age of 1 year.
Both bacteraemia and meningitis are deadly diseases that can kill within hours, and babies and toddlers fall into the high-risk groups of contracting these diseases!
Non-invasive diseases on the other hand, occur outside major organs and the blood. These include:
Otitis media (infection of the middle ear)
- A person may experience ear pain, difficulty sleeping, difficulty hearing or responding to sounds, loss of balance, headache, fever and fluid or pus leaking from the ear.
- Frequent otitis media may result in serious complications such as impaired hearing, delayed speech development, and spread of the infection to nearby organs such as the brain.
Sinusitis (inflammation of the sinuses)
- A person may experience headache, facial tenderness, pressure, pain, fever, cloudy and discoloured nasal drainage, a feeling of nasal stuffiness, sore throat or cough.
- Undiagnosed or untreated sinusitis may lead to eye socket infection, which may cause a person to lose the ability to move the eye and blindness.
Though these diseases are less severe compared to bacteraemia and meningitis, they can still cause serious complications if not treated appropriately.
Although pneumococcal diseases can be treated with antibiotics, chances are that it may be already too late and most fatal cases of invasive pneumococcal diseases could have actually been prevented with vaccination. Vaccination is recommended for everyone, as pneumococcal disease can affect anyone at any age. However, there are certain groups of people who are at a higher risk of getting the disease, such as:
- Adults aged 65 years and above.
- Children aged 2-24 months, especially those with chronic diasese of the lung (except asthma), heart, kidney or liver.
- Those with immune systems weakened by conditions such as cancer or HIV infection.
- Those without a functioning spleen eg after removal in Thalassaemia or trauma.
There are two types of vaccines against pneumococcal disease: A polysaccharide vaccine and a conjugate vaccine. The pneumococcal conjugate vaccine is recommended for children aged 2-24 months (upto age 8 years), while the polysaccharide vaccine is used after 2 years of age.
Vaccination is a major means of preventing many diseases, hence avoiding unnecessary illness, disability and even death. Parents may worry about side effects that may occur from vaccination, which are often few and minor in nature. Vaccination remains the best guard against diseases that have the potential to kill or even disable millions of children and adults for life. You have the option to avoid fatalities and serious complications; power up against pneumococcus today!