Pneumococcal Disease (Streptococcus pneumoniae)

What is pneumococcal disease?

Pneumococcal disease is caused by bacteria called Streptococcus pneumoniae (pneumococcus). People with pneumococcal disease can spread the bacteria to others when they cough or sneeze.

Pneumococcus bacteria can cause infections in many parts of the body, including

  • Lungs (pneumonia) 
  • Ears (otitis)
  • Sinuses (sinusitis)
  • Brain and spinal cord tissue (meningitis)
  • Blood (bacteremia)

Symptoms of pneumococcal infection depend on the part of the body affected. Symptoms can include fever, cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, stiff neck, confusion, increased sensitivity to light, joint pain, chills, ear pain, sleeplessness, and irritability. In severe cases, pneumococcal disease can cause hearing loss, brain damage, and death. You can find a full list of symptoms for each part of the body that is affected on the symptoms and complications of pneumococcal disease page.

Who is at risk?

Pneumococcal disease occurs around the world but is more common in low- and middle-income countries where fewer people get pneumococcal vaccine. In more temperate climates, pneumococcal disease is more common during winter and early spring. In tropical climates with dry and rainy seasons, pneumococcal disease tends to occur more in the dry season.

Travelers are more likely to get pneumococcal disease if they spend time in crowded settings or in close contact with children in countries where pneumococcal vaccine is not routinely used. 

What can travelers do to prevent pneumococcal disease?

Getting vaccinated is the best way to protect against pneumococcal disease. Pneumococcal vaccines are routinely recommended in the United States. 

There are two types of pneumococcal vaccine:

  1. CDC recommends PPSV23 for
    • All adults 65 years or older
    • People 2 through 64 years old with certain medical conditions
    • Adults 19 through 64 years old who smoke cigarettes
  2. CDC recommends PCV13 for
    • All children younger than 2 years old
    • People 2 years or older with certain medical conditions
    • Adults 65 years or older may discuss and decide, with their clinician, to receive PCV13

Some groups may need multiple doses or booster shots. Talk with your or your child’s clinician about what is best for your specific situation.

stethoscope

If you traveled and feel sick, particularly if you have a fever, talk to a healthcare provider and tell them about your travel. Avoid contact with other people while you are sick.

If you need medical care abroad, see Getting Health Care Abroad.

Traveler Information

Clinician Information