Pneumococcal Disease, Invasive


What is Pneumococcal Disease?

Pneumococcal disease is an infection caused by a type of bacteria called Streptococcus pneumoniae.   These bacteria are commonly found in the nose and throat of healthy adults and children but do not cause infections most of the time.  However, when infection occurs, it is most commonly found in your ear, sinuses, lungs, lining of the brain and spinal cord, and blood. Pneumococcal infections occur more frequently in the winter months.

When the bacteria invade the blood, lungs or lining of the brain and spinal cord, it is called “invasive” pneumococcal disease (IPD). This can then develop into pneumonia (lung infections), meningitis (brain/spinal cord infection) or a bacteremia (blood infection).

Pneumococcal disease can cause death, long term health issues such as brain damage, hearing loss or loss of a limb.


Who is at risk?

The bacteria are spread from person to person through:

  • droplets in the air from coughing or sneezing.
  • the saliva of an infected person (kissing, sharing drinks or cigarettes)
  • contact with items soiled with nose or throat secretions from an infected person (e.g. children sharing toys)


Symptoms of Pneumococcal Disease:

The bacteria can cause different symptoms depending on the part of the body infected. Symptoms may develop 1-3 days after exposure occurs.

  • Pneumococcal pneumonia (lung infection) symptoms include sudden onset of high fever, shaking/chills, chest pain difficulty breathing, increase heart rate and a cough with “rusty” coloured sputum. In the elderly, onset may be less sudden, with fever, shortness of breath or altered mental status. Infants and younger children may have fever, vomiting, and seizures.
  • Pneumococcal meningitis (brain and spinal cord infections) symptoms include headache, high fever, stiff neck, vomiting, mental confusion and disorientation, and sensitivity to light. Small children may also have irritability, poor appetite and drowsiness.  There is usually not a rash present. A person with pneumococcal meningitis does not pass it on to others.
  • Pneumococcal bacteremia (blood infection) symptoms include a high fever, muscle aches and pains, lack of energy and drowsiness.


How is Pneumococcal Disease treated?

Middle ear infections often resolve without antibiotics. People with serious or invasive infections need to take antibiotics (orally or thru IV) to kill the bacteria.  Unfortunately, in rare situations, antibiotic treatment isn’t always enough to prevent permanent damage.


How is Streptococcus Pneumoniae treated?

People with serious pneumococcal infections need to take antibiotics to get better.  In some serious infections, even with antibiotics, the germ can cause permanent damage.  Middle ear infections often go away without antibiotics.


How can Pneumococcal Disease be prevented?

There are 90+ different variations (serotypes) of the bacteria. Some are more common in certain geographical areas and within age groups. There are different types of vaccinations available to prevent pneumococcal disease. Vaccination should be offered to all persons at risk of pneumococcal disease.  For more information, please see the Pneumococcal Vaccine information sheets available at and also discuss your need for this vaccination with your health care provider.

Also, remember to practice good hand hygiene, cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze and dispose of your tissue in a waste basket.


This page provides basic information only. It must not take the place of medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always talk to a health care professional about any health concerns


For Further Information

Call the Infectious Disease Program: (807) 625-5900

or toll-free 1-888-294-6630

Health Topic
Diseases & Infections