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Frequently Asked Questions on Pneumococcal Infection

Frequently Asked Questions on Pneumococcal Infection
2019-07-12
  1. What is pneumococcal infection?
  2. What are the symptoms of pneumococcal infection?
  3. How is pneumococcal infection transmitted?
  4. Is a person previously contracted with pneumococcal infection immune from future infections caused by pneumococcus?
  5. Who is at higher risk of pneumococcal infection?
  6. Is there any treatment for pneumococcal infection?
  7. How can invasive pneumococcal disease be prevented?
  8. What is the relationship between seasonal influenza and pneumococcal infection?
  9. Can pneumococcal vaccines be received together with seasonal influenza vaccine?

1.  What is pneumococcal infection?

Pneumococcal infection is caused by the bacteria Streptococcus pneumoniae (pneumococcus). Streptococcus pneumoniae causes a wide range of diseases, more common ones include middle ear infection (acute otitis media) and chest infection (pneumonia). It may also cause various forms of invasive pneumococcal diseases (IPD), such as infection of the brain membranes (meningitis) and blood stream (bacteraemia and sepsis). The infection can be serious or even life-threatening.

2. What are the symptoms of pneumococcal infection?

Clinical presentation depends on the site of infection:

  • Middle ear infection (otitis media) can present with fever, ear pain and sometimes with discharge. It may lead to hearing loss in recurrent infection.
  • Chest infection (pneumonia) can present with fever, shortness of breath, chills and productive cough. It may result in death in severe cases.
  • Infection of the brain membranes (meningitis) can present with fever, stiff neck and confusion. It may result in long-term hearing loss or even death.
  • Infection of the blood stream (bacteraemia and sepsis) can present with joint pain and chills. It may also present along with infection at other site, such as pneumonia and meningitis.

3. How is pneumococcal infection transmitted?

Pneumococci are commonly found in the nose and throat of healthy people, particularly in children. Occasionally, these bacteria will cause an infection. They mainly spread through droplets via coughing and sneezing, close contact with the patients or contact with materials soiled with the bacteria. The incubation period of pneumococcal infection is about 1 to 3 days.

4.  Is a person previously contracted with pneumococcal infection immune from future infections caused by pneumococcus?

As there are over 90 serotypes of pneumococcus, previous infection of a particular serotype may not confer immunity to other serotypes of pneumococcus.

5.  Who is at higher risk of pneumococcal infection?

Some individuals are at higher risk of pneumococcal infection, these include young children, the elderly and persons with high risk conditions:

  • history of invasive pneumococcal disease
  • weakened immunity such as asplenic patients, cancer patients, HIV/ AIDS patients
  • chronic illnesses such as diabetes mellitus
  • cochlear (inner ear) implants

6.  Is there any treatment for pneumococcal infection?

The disease can be treated with antibiotics. However there is a problem of increasing resistance of the bacterium to antibiotics, which makes prevention of pneumococcal infection important.

7.  How can invasive pneumococcal disease be prevented?

Pneumococcal vaccination is a safe and effective means of preventing pneumococcal infection. Members of the public should also maintain good personal and environmental hygiene practices:

  • Perform hand hygiene frequently, especially before touching the mouth, nose or eyes; after touching public installations such as handrails or door knobs; or when hands are contaminated by respiratory secretion after coughing or sneezing. Wash hands with liquid soap and water, and rub for at least 20 seconds. Then rinse with water and dry with a disposable paper towel or hand dryer. If hand washing facilities are not available, or when hands are not visibly soiled, hand hygiene with 70 to 80% alcohol-based handrub is an effective alternative
  • Cover your nose and mouth with tissue paper when sneezing or coughing. Dispose of soiled tissues into a lidded rubbish bin, then wash hands thoroughly
  • When having respiratory symptoms, wear a surgical mask, refrain from work or attending class at school, avoid going to crowded places and seek medical advice promptly
  • Build up good body immunity by having a balanced diet, regular exercise and adequate rest, do not smoke and avoid alcohol consumption
  • Regularly clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces such as furniture, toys and commonly shared items with 1:99 diluted household bleach (mixing 1 part of 5.25% bleach with 99 parts of water), leave for 15 - 30 minutes, and then rinse with water and keep dry. For metallic surface, disinfect with 70% alcohol
  • Use absorbent disposable towels to wipe away obvious contaminants such as respiratory secretions, then disinfect the surface and neighbouring areas with 1:49 diluted household bleach (mixing 1 part of 5.25% bleach with 49 parts of water), leave for 15 - 30 minutes and then rinse with water and keep dry. For metallic surface, disinfect with 70% alcohol
  • Maintain good indoor ventilation. Avoid going to crowded or poorly ventilated public places; high-risk individuals may consider putting on surgical masks while in such places

8.  What is the relationship between seasonal influenza and pneumococcal infection?

Seasonal influenza predisposes individuals to bacterial community-acquired pneumonia. Secondary bacterial pneumonia has been an important cause of morbidity and mortality for those infected with seasonal influenza.

9.  Can pneumococcal vaccines be received together with seasonal influenza vaccine?

Yes. Both 23vPPV and PCV can be given together with other vaccines, including seasonal influenza vaccine but should be administered with a different syringe and at a different injection site.