Pneumococcal Meningitis

Pneumococcus (Streptococcus pneumoniae)

Pneumococcal bacteria cause many different illnesses including pneumonia, bronchitis, ear and sinus infections, a blood infection called bacteraemia, as well as meningitis. Pneumococci are the most common cause of pneumonia, sinusitis, and otitis media (ear infections). Pneumococcal meningitis infection is rare: one or two cases per 100,000 people each year in Canada. This is a severe form of meningitis. Two out of every ten cases result in death even with treatment. Brain damage and/or deafness also occur in two out of every ten cases.

Symptoms of pneumococcal meningitis:

  • Fever, usually high
  • Drowsiness, impaired consciousness
  • Irritability, fussiness, agitation
  • Severe headache
  • Vomiting
  • Stiff neck
  • Pain on moving neck

If you suspect meningitis, review our medical emergency information.

Pneumococcal bacteria are carried in the back of the nose and throat, often without causing illness. Up to 40% of people carry the bacteria, starting in the first year of life.

Pneumococcal bacteria spread through direct contact with secretions from the nose and throat. The bacteria spread through close, direct physical contact: kissing, coughing or sneezing. They also spread through saliva. Sharing anything that comes in contact with the mouth can spread the bacteria from person to person – mouthpieces on musical instruments, drinking glasses, lipstick, eating utensils, toys and such can all spread the bacteria. Pneumococcal meningitis is not considered to be contagious. A person with this disease does not pass it on to others.

Most cases of Pneumococcal meningitis are in children under two years of age, elderly adults and people with risk factors:

  • Lack of spleen (removed due to accident or sickle cell anemia)
  • Suppression of immune system from cancer therapy, organ transplants, AIDS, steroid treatment
  • Chronic heart, lung or kidney disease
  • Diabetes
  • Alcoholism or liver disease
  • Smoking, second hand smoke, skull fractures, head surgery, or skull malformation

Pneumococcal meningitis is treated with high doses of antibiotics, given by vein. 

Vaccine prevention is available