Health conditions

Pneumococcal disease

What is pneumococcal disease?

Pneumococcal disease is caused by the Streptococcus pneumonia bacterium. There are over 90 different strains (serotypes). Many of these strains live in the respiratory passages of humans and cause no ill health. Only a small number of strains are responsible for most cases of invasive disease (infection) in people.

Types of pneumococcal infections

Infection commonly occurs in the:

  • lungs
  • middle ear
  • sinuses
  • blood stream
  • meninges – lining of the brain and spinal cord.

How does the infection spread?

Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria are spread through air-borne droplets of mucus or saliva by:

  • coughing
  • sneezing
  • touching contaminated surfaces.

People who are at increased risk of getting pneumococcal disease

Certain groups of people have an increased risk of infection including:

  • people over 65
  • Aboriginal people
  • smokers
  • people with:
    • existing chronic diseases such as cancer, lung or kidney disease
    • weakened immune systems
    • impaired spleen function or having no spleen
  • children:
    • under 2
    • in child care.

Signs and symptoms

Pneumococcal can cause many health conditions. Symptoms vary based on the type of infection you have and your age.

Symptoms of pneumococcal infections include:

  • respiratory symptoms – cough, chills and shaking
  • difficulty breathing
  • ear pain or discharge from the ear
  • fever
  • nausea and vomiting
  • headaches
  • chest pain – breathing in and out
  • shortness of breath
  • blood-stained sputum (spittle/mucus)
  • light sensitivity
  • poor appetite
  • confusion
  • irritability
  • drowsiness
  • skin rash.

Diagnosis of pneumococcal disease

Testing for Streptococcus pneumonia needs to be specific as other bacteria can cause comparable infections.

Pneumococcal disease is diagnosed using a variety of tests depending on your symptoms.

Tests include:

  • physical examination
  • blood, urine, and sputum tests
  • chest x-ray
  • lumbar puncture test.

Treatment of pneumococcal disease

Treatment includes:

  • antibiotics
  • pain relief
  • drinking more fluids
  • rest
  • admission to hospital for acute cases.

Preventative treatment also includes vaccination against pneumococcal disease.

How can pneumococcal disease be prevented?

Vaccines are available to help protect children and adults against the most common strains of the Streptococcus pneumoniae.

Please see the WA Immunisation page.

Where to get help


  • The bacterium Streptococcus pneumonia is spread through coughing sneezing, saliva and mucus.
  • Pneumococcal infections are vaccine preventable.
  • Children and people with weak immune systems and chronic diseases are the most vulnerable.
  • The disease can be life-threatening.


Public Health

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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