Pneumococcal Disease Is Common, But It Can Lead to Serious Health Problems
Thu, September 29, 2022

Pneumococcal Disease Is Common, But It Can Lead to Serious Health Problems


Pneumococcal disease is a common disease caused by the bacterium Streptococcus pneumoniae, which is also known as pneumococcus, explained Yvette Brazier of Medical News Today, a web-based medical news outlet. It is often a mild infection, but it can sometimes lead to serious health complications such as blood infection, pneumonia, middle ear infection, or bacterial meningitis.

Invasive pneumococcal disease is a lethal condition that affects 10% of cases. Older people and individuals with underlying medical complications are more at risk than those with serious complications. Regular vaccination can prevent various types of pneumococcal disease, as well as other complications from arising.   

Parental Knowledge, Attitudes, and Perception of PD and PCV In Singapore (2016)

A trained interviewer gave a questionnaire to 200 parents aged 21 and above with children attending the Singapore Sengkang Polyclinic, said Choon How How and colleagues of biomedical and life sciences journal PMC. The questionnaire contained closed-ended questions about the respondents’ knowledge of PD (pneumococcal disease) and pneumococcal conjugate vaccines (PCV).

There were 162 parents in the Vaccinated group and 38 parents in the Unvaccinated category. The interviewees were mothers, representing 68.5% and 57.9% of children in the respective groups. When asked if the cost of PCV is too high, 30.2% and 30.9% of parents in the Vaccinated group answered “Moderately Agree” or “Strongly Agree,” respectively. Meanwhile, 31.6% of parents in the Unvaccinated group answered “Moderately Agree” and 39.5% said “Strongly Agree.”

When the question “If the PCV was free of charge, would you be willing for your child to be vaccinated with the vaccine?” was asked, 99.4% of parents in the Vaccinated group answered “yes” (versus 0.6%) and 76.3% of those in the Unvaccinated group agreed (versus 23.7%). When asked if they wanted their child to be vaccinated with PCV so long as they pay, 94.4%  and 50% of parents in the Vaccinated group (versus 5.6%) and Unvaccinated group (versus 50%) answered “yes,” respectively. When asked if they intend to let their kids receive the PCV, 53.1% of parents in the Vaccinated group said “Already vaccinated” and 46.9% said “yes.”

On the other hand, only 38% of parents in the Unvaccinated group answered “no.” None of the parents in this group answered “Already vaccinated” or showed their willingness to let their child receive the PCV. When asked if the parents have heard about pneumococcal disease, 82.1% of parents in the Vaccinated group answered “yes” (versus 17.9% of parents in the Vaccinated group who answered “No”). 65.8% of those in the Unvaccinated group answered “yes” (versus 34.2%).

94.7% of parents in the Vaccinated category said vaccination can prevent pneumococcal disease compared to 5.3% of those who answered “No.” Only 21.8% answered “do not know.” In the Unvaccinated category, 84.6% said vaccination can prevent the disease, 15.4% said “no” and “do not know.”  When asked if they have heard about PCV before, 69.1% of parents in the Vaccinated group said “yes” (versus 30.9% of parents who said “no”) compared to 36.8% of those in the Unvaccinated category (versus 63.2% who said “no”).

The authors concluded that cost and poor knowledge about pneumococcal disease and PCV among parents diminishes the value of vaccination, regardless of its perceived benefits.  



What Are the Types of Pneumococcal Disease?

1.     Non-Invasive Pneumococcal Diseases

These happen outside the major organs or the blood. S. pnuemoniae can spread from your nose and throat to the upper and lower respiratory tract. The bacteria can cause otitis media (inflammation of the middle ear), bronchitis, and sinusitis.

2.     Invasive Pneumococcal Diseases

These are more serious than the above-mentioned type and occur inside a major organ or in the blood. Invasive pneumococcal disease cause bacteremia (bacterial infection of the blood), sepsis, meningitis, and pneumonia. These can also cause osteomyelitis, which affects the bone, and septic arthritis (infection of the joint). People who have invasive pneumococcal diseases should seek urgent medical treatment.



Who Are At Risk of PD?

According to public health institute CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), children younger than two years old and those who have certain illnesses like HIV infection, diabetes, and more are at an increased risk for PD. Children with cochlear implants or cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) leaks are also susceptible to PD.

Adults older than 65 are more likely to have PD, though some adults aged 19 to 64 are also vulnerable to this disease, as well as people with chronic illnesses and those with conditions that weaken their immune system (ex: cancer, HIV/AIDS, or damaged/absent spleen). Individuals who smoke cigarettes and those with cochlear implants or CSF leaks are at an increased risk for PD. Pneumococcal bacteria spread from one person to another by direct contact with respiratory secretions such as saliva or mucus.

What Are the Symptoms of PD?

Pneumococcal pneumonia is the most common serious form of PD and symptoms include fever and chills, chest pain, cough, and rapid breathing or trouble breathing, stated CDC. Older adults with pneumococcal pneumonia may suffer from low alertness or confusion rather than the aforementioned symptoms.

Symptoms of pneumococcal meningitis are stiff neck, fever, headache, confusion, and photophobia (eyes being more sensitive to light). In babies, it can cause vomiting, poor appetite, and low alertness. Moreover, the symptoms of pneumococcal bacteremia are fever, chills, and low alertness.

Common signs of sepsis include confusion or disorientation, high heart rate, shortness of breath, clammy or sweaty skin, and more. Meanwhile, common signs of middle ear infections include ear pain, fever, sleepiness, and having a red, swollen eardrum.



How Can PD Be Prevented?

There are two types of pneumococcal vaccines, namely PCV and Pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23 or Pneumovax 23). These vaccines can protect you from many, but not all types of pneumococcal bacteria. It is also recommended to get an influenza vaccine every year as having the flu increases your likelihood of getting PD.

However, any person who has had a severe allergic reaction to PPSV23, PCV13, or PCV7 (an older version of the conjugated vaccine), from one dose should not be vaccinated. Take note that severe allergic reactions to pneumococcal vaccines are rare. You can get PD more than once, so a previous pneumococcal infection will not protect you from future infection. Even if you have PD in the past, it is still recommended to be vaccinated against it, CDC said.

Older people, children, and those with underlying medical conditions are vulnerable to PD. It is recommended to have regular vaccinations against this disease, as well as an annual influenza vaccine since the flu increases one’s likelihood of developing PD.