What can happen if I get pneumococcal disease?

If you do not get the pneumococcal vaccine and contract pneumococcal disease, you could suffer serious lung infections, including pneumonia. You could also get an infection in your blood or brain (meningitis). About one out of 20 people who get the disease die from complications. Talk to your doctor about your risks and whether you should have the vaccine.

Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine

Pneumococcal disease can be a mild annoyance or a life-threatening event, sort of like your mother-in-law’s mood. The four most common conditions that you could develop if you have pneumococcal disease are sinusitis, meningitis, and pneumonia and inflammatory consequences in your arteries such as heart attacks, strokes, and memory loss.


When it comes to sinusitis, the sinuses are the spaces behind the cheeks, eyes, nose, and forehead (those are the spaces that get clogged and cause a headache when you have a cold). They are normally filled with air, but when the openings to the sinuses get blocked up as is the case with sinusitis, bacteria such as our friend strep pneumo, can have a party, which leads to inflammation and a whole laundry list of symptoms.


However, it doesn’t just stop there. Pneumococcal disease can also cause meningitis, which is a serious, potentially life-threatening infection of the tissue layers covering the brain (the meninges). A stiff neck, high fever, and a major headache are common symptoms of this pneumococcal disease. Get help right away if you notice these symptoms, because meningitis can become very bad, very fast and can be fatal within hours. It’s also extremely contagious.


Finally, let’s not forget pneumonia, another serious pneumococcal disease. Pneumonia is just doctor-speak for an infection of the lungs. Symptoms include a cough that doesn’t seem to go away on its own. You may notice problems with breathing or have a fever. If your doctor determines that you have bacterial pneumonia, he or she will prescribe antibiotics to treat it.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.