Pneumococcal Disease

What is pneumococcal disease?

An unpleasant but potentially serious bacterial infection that may cause a range of symptoms including fever, chills, cough, headache and sleepiness. Travellers should be especially wary when in developing countries or crowded conditions.

Risk areas for Pneumococcal Disease

Map of risk areas for Pneumococcal Disease
  • Key fact

    The bacteria that causes pneumococcal disease is actually present in the body of many people from a young age.3 Disease is only caused by certain sub-forms of the bacteria under the right conditions.4

  • How do you get pneumococcal disease?

    Pneumococcal bacteria are spread from person-to-person through direct contact with coughs, sneezes and saliva of those who are infected.3 Children younger than two years and adults over 65 years face an increased risk of contracting this bug.3

  • Which countries are affected by pneumococcal disease?

    It is possible to contract pneumococcal disease anywhere in the world as the bacteria that causes it is found globally.1 As a traveller, you may be at higher risk when in developing countries or if you spend time in crowded settings (travelling for Hajj for example).1 Finally, cases of pneumococcal disease peak in the months December-February in temperate climates but occur all year round in the tropics.4

  • What are the symptoms of pneumococcal disease?

    There are many types of pneumococcal disease; symptoms vary depending on which part of the body is infected.5

    Infection in the lungs (pneumonia) is most common and causes fever, chills, cough, breathing difficulty and chest pain.5 Pneumococcal meningitis occurs when bacteria infect the brain causing headache, stiff neck, fever, confusion and sensitivity to light.5 An infection in the blood can lead to fever, chills and low alertness.5 Finally, infection in the ear is associated with ear pain, swollen ear drum, fever and sleepiness.5

  • How serious is pneumococcal disease?

    Most pneumococcal infections are mild.5 However, some can be deadly or result in long-term problems such as brain damage or hearing loss.5

    Pneumococcal meningitis is the most serious type, it can be fatal in young children and the elderly.5 Pneumococcal infection in the blood is sometimes fatal but not as often as the meningitis form. Finally, pneumococcal pneumonia is often mild but again it can be serious in the very young and the elderly.5

  • Can I prevent getting pneumococcal disease?

    • Visit your nearest convenient pharmacy or specialist travel health clinic for a risk assessment before your trip
    • Avoid close personal contact such as kissing or hugging with people who have symptoms of respiratory illness1
    • When travelling, wash your hands often and be mindful of touching your face without clean hands1
    • Avoid sharing personal items such as eating and drinking utensils6

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References
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Traveler’s Health: Pneumococcal Disease (Streptococcus pneumoniae). Available online: https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/diseases/pneumococcal-disease-streptococcus-pneumoniae (Last accessed February 2020)
  2. WorldData. Developing Countries. Available online: https://www.worlddata.info/developing-countries.php (Last accessed February 2020)
    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pneumococcal Disease: Risk Factors and Transmission. Available online: https://www.cdc.gov/pneumococcal/about/risk-transmission.html (Last accessed February 2020).
  3. Public Health England. The Green book, Chapter 25: Pneumococcal. January 2018. Available online: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/674074/GB_Chapter_25_Pneumococcal_V7_0.pdf (Last accessed February 2020)
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pneumococcal Disease: Symptoms and Complications. Available online: https://www.cdc.gov/pneumococcal/about/symptoms-complications.html (Last accessed February 2020)
  5. Health Service Executive. Respiratory Tract Infection. Available online: https://www.hse.ie/eng/health/az/r/respiratory-tract-infection/preventing-respiratory-tract-infections.html (Last accessed February 2020)

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