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Pneumococcal infections


Pneumococcus is a bacterium found in the respiratory tract. Many people carry the bacteria in their nose or throat without becoming ill. However, pneumococcus can sometimes cause infections, like pneumonia, for instance.

There are many types of pneumococcus. About forty of them cause infections in humans. They are called ‘pneumococcal infections’.

Pneumococcal infections are common in Québec. They occur throughout the year, but especially in winter and spring. Each year, serious pneumococcal infections cause 3,000 to 6,000 hospitalisations and many deaths.


Symptoms of pneumococcal infections and their seriousness may vary with a person’s age, health and type of infection.

The types of infections are the following:

  • Ear (otitis)
  • Sinus (sinusitis)
  • Pneumonia
  • Meningitis (infection of membranes that surround the brain)
  • Bacteremia (blood infection)

Onset of symptoms generally happens very quickly, meaning within 1 to 3 days following infection by the bacterium.

Pneumococcal infections can also lead to complications.

When to consult

Same-day consultation

You should consult a doctor the same day if you have one of the following symptoms:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Pain when breathing

Immediate consultation at emergency

You should go to emergency immediately if you have one of the following symptoms:

  • Breathing difficulty that persists or increases suddenly
  • Blue lips
  • Difficulty moving
  • Severely stiff neck
  • Drowsiness, difficulty staying awake
  • Confusion, disorientation
  • Convulsions (the body stiffens and muscles contract in a jerky and involuntary manner)
  • No urination for 12 hours

If your child has fever and appears very sick, has no energy and refuses to play, take them to see a doctor quickly.

If you require immediate assistance to get to emergency, dial 9-1-1.


Most pneumococcal infections can be treated with antibiotics.

You can relieve symptoms of pneumococcal infections through the following measures:

Drink plenty of fluids

If you have fever, your body naturally loses a lot of fluids, especially through sweating. Therefore, it is important to drink a lot and often.

  • Drink a lot of fluids: water, milk, juice, broth
  • Avoid beverages with alcohol or caffeine, such as coffee, tea and energy drinks. Given these drinks make you urinate, they increase loss of fluids

Use medication according to instructions

To relieve fever and pain, you can take over-the-counter medicine such as acetaminophen, Tylenol® for example, and ibuprophen, Advil® for example.

Avoid taking medication that includes identical ingredients at the same time. For instance, do not take Tylenol® and Tylenol® Sinus together because both medicines contain acetaminophen.

Take your antibiotics as prescribed. Do not stop treatment before the end.

Children and adolescents

If your child is over 3 months old and has fever, you can give them acetaminophen, Tylenol® for example. Make sure you follow instructions supplied with the product and according to your child’s weight.

Avoid giving children and adolescents acetylsalicylic acid such as aspirin. In children and adolescents, such medication can lead to a serious illness of the brain and liver called ‘Reye's syndrome’.


Some pneumococcal infections can leave permanent scars including:

  • Deafness (becoming deaf)
  • Permanent brain damage
  • Death


Pneumococcus is spread through airborne droplets from an infected person’s nose and throat.

Protection and prevention


Vaccination is the best way to be protected against pneumococcal infections.

The vaccines used vary according to a person’s age and health condition.

According to the recommended immunisation schedule, children can receive the vaccine from the age of 2 months.

Procedure for getting vaccinated

The pneumococcus vaccine can be administered at any moment in the year.

People at risk can receive the vaccine for free under the Québec Immunisation Program.

See the Québec Immunisation Program page to know the procedure for getting vaccinated.

People at risk

The following people are more at risk of catching a pneumococcal infection:

  • Children under 5 years of age
  • People 65 years old and up
  • People with one of the following illnesses:
    • Heart disease
    • Lung disease (e.g. emphysema, chronic bronchitis), except asthma
    • Kidney disease
    • Diabetes
    • Splenic malfunction or absence
    • Cirrhosis or alcoholism
    • HIV infection
    • Deficient immune system (e.g. cancer)

Special conditions

Pneumococcal infection is a reportable disease in Québec.

When laboratory staff and health professionals detect a case of pneumococcal infection, they must inform public health authorities.

Last update: May 20, 2015


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