5 Pneumococcal Infections You Need to Recognise

Get To Know The 5 Types Of Pneumococcal Infections

In Malaysia, pneumococcal disease is one of the most widespread vaccine preventable diseases and can be potentially fatal1.

But first, what is pneumococcal disease?

Pneumococcal disease is a name for any infection caused by bacteria called Streptococcus pneumoniae, or pneumococcus2.

Although pneumococcal diseases are common and often mild infections, they can sometimes result in serious health problems3, ranging from otitis media – a middle ear infection – or bacteremia – a blood infection – to pneumonia4.

There are two main types of pneumococcal disease: non-invasive pneumococcal diseases – the less serious types – and invasive pneumococcal diseases, which are more serious3.

Middle ear infections such as otitis media and sinus infections such as sinusitis are considered non-invasive pneumococcal diseases. However, infections such as meningitis, bacteremia, and pneumonia are all invasive pneumococcal diseases that require urgent medical treatment3.

To identify these different kinds of pneumococcal diseases, we should first understand what they are, as well as their respective symptoms.

Photo credit: Artem Podrez

1. Otitis media (Middle ear infection)

Otitis media is an inflammation or infection located in the middle ear which can occur as a result of a cold, sore throat, or respiratory infection5. It is also commonly caused by pneumococcal bacteria6.

These middle ear infections are usually the result of a malfunction of the eustachian tube – the canal that links the middle ear with the throat area – which helps to equalise the pressure between the outer and middle ear5.

However, when this tube doesn’t work properly, it prevents normal drainage of fluid from the middle ear. This causes a buildup of fluid behind the eardrum, which allows the growth of bacteria and viruses in the ear that can lead to acute otitis media5.

Symptoms of otitis media include:

      Ear pain6

      A red, swollen eardrum6



2. Sinusitis (Sinus infection)

Sinusitis, also known as a sinus infection7, is an inflammation or swelling of the tissue lining your sinuses8.

Your sinuses are four paired spaces (or cavities) in your head that are connected by narrow channels. They make thin mucus that drains out of the channels of the nose, which helps keep the nose clean and free from bacteria8.

However, your sinuses can get blocked and filled with fluids. If this happens, bacteria can grow and cause an infection known as bacterial sinusitis8.

Symptoms of sinusitis include:

      A runny or stuffy nose7

      Facial pain or pressure7


      Mucus dripping down the throat (post-nasal drip)7

      Sore throat7


      Bad breath7

If you have any of these symptoms, do not hesitate to reach out to a medical professional today.

Photo credit: Alex Green

3. Meningitis

Meningitis is an inflammation or swelling of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. A bacterial or viral infection of the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord usually causes this swelling to occur9.

Meningitis caused by viruses can be serious but is often less severe than meningitis caused by bacteria9.

Bacterial meningitis, on the other hand, can be deadly and requires immediate medical attention9. Several types of bacteria can cause meningitis, including the Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria10.

Meningitis symptoms include a sudden onset of:



      Stiff neck10

There are often other symptoms, such as:



      Photophobia (sensitivity to light)10

      Altered mental status (confusion)10

4. Bacteremia (Blood infection)

Bacteremia is when there are bacteria present in your bloodstream. It is also known as “blood poisoning”, although this isn’t a medical term. It can be caused by many different bacteria, including the pneumococcal bacteria11.

A few common ways bacteremia occurs include transmission through dental procedures, surgeries, the spread of infections from another part of the body into the bloodstream, severe injuries or burns, or via medical devices. Some of these bacteria can establish an infection in the bloodstream11.

In some cases, bacteremia can be asymptomatic, meaning there are no symptoms. However, in other cases, symptoms may be present and there are potential risks for severe complications11.

When an infection is established within the bloodstream, this type of bacteremia is differentiated as septicemia. If left untreated, this bloodstream infection can result in sepsis11, which is the body’s extreme response to an infection – usually triggered by an existing infection – that can lead to tissue damage, organ failure, and death without timely treatment12.

When bacteremia results in a bloodstream infection, the symptoms you’ll likely experience include:



      Shaking or shivering11

If you believe you might be suffering from bacteremia, consult a medical professional to seek treatment immediately.

5. Pneumonia (Lung infection)

Pneumonia is a lung infection that happens when the air sacs in your lungs fill up with fluid. This makes it difficult for you to breathe and restricts the oxygen from entering your bloodstream13.

Pneumonia can be caused by bacteria, viruses, and fungi. The most common cause of bacterial pneumonia is caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae14.

Symptoms of pneumonia usually develop over the course of several days. These may include:

      Chest pain when coughing or breathing13

      A cough that produces phlegm or mucus13

      Fatigue and a loss of appetite13


      Sweating and chills13

      Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea13

      Shortness of breath13

Risk factors and prevention

Anybody can get pneumococcal disease, but some people have a higher risk of the infection or its complications compared to others3.

Those with increased risk include those who:

      Are under 2 years old or over 65 years of age3

      Have an underlying medical condition or a weakened immune system3

      Suffer from chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, alcohol use disorder or spleen dysfunction3

      Live in long-term care facilities3

      Smoke tobacco3

      Have hearing aids known as cochlear implants3

Vaccines can provide protection by preventing pneumococcal disease15. If you’re from a high-risk group and want to know more about the right immunisation for you, reach out to a medical expert today to find out more.


  1. Pneumococcal Vaccine, PORTAL MyHEALTH | https://tinyurl.com/mr2yjj89 | Accessed 16 March 2022
  2. Pneumococcal Disease | https://tinyurl.com/ycyknw9t | Accessed 16 March 2022
  3. Pneumococcal disease: Causes, how it spreads, and symptoms | https://tinyurl.com/y3fjh3yd | Accessed 16 March 2022
  4. Types of Pneumococcal Disease | https://tinyurl.com/2p9bbtsj | Accessed 16 March 2022
  5. Ear Infection (Otitis Media) Symptoms & Treatment | https://tinyurl.com/3ax8pa35 | Accessed 16 March 2022
  6. Symptoms and Complications of Pneumococcal Disease | https://tinyurl.com/3xceduht | Accessed 16 March 2022
  7. Sinus Infection (Sinusitis) | https://tinyurl.com/3cfdshf4 | Accessed 16 March 2022
  8. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/17701-sinusitis | https://tinyurl.com/hftxa685 | Accessed 16 March 2022
  9. Meningitis | https://tinyurl.com/3nfn7ryf | Accessed 16 March 2022
  10. Bacterial Meningitis | https://tinyurl.com/2p9b48nk | Accessed 16 March 2022
  11. Bacteremia: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments | https://tinyurl.com/y8skx4xk | Accessed 16 March 2022
  12. What Is Sepsis | https://tinyurl.com/3khzherp | Accessed 16 March 2022
  13. Pneumonia: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Complications | https://tinyurl.com/4z6azxcc | Accessed 16 March 2022
  14. What Causes Pneumonia? | https://tinyurl.com/2p9ye4vb | Accessed 16 March 2022
  15. Pneumococcal Vaccination | https://tinyurl.com/2z4u7f2k | Accessed 16 March 2022


The health information contained herein is provided for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace discussions with a healthcare provider. All decisions regarding patient care must be made with a healthcare provider, considering the unique characteristics of the patient.

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