Signs & Symptoms
Pneumococci cause over 50% of all cases of bacterial meningitis in the United States. An estimated 2,000 cases of pneumococcal meningitis occur each year. Some patients with pneumococcal meningitis also have pneumonia. The clinical symptoms, cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) profile, and neurologic complications are similar to other forms of purulent bacterial meningitis. Symptoms may include
- Fever and chills
- Mental status changes
- Nausea and vomiting
- Sensitivity to light (photophobia)
- Severe headache
- Stiff neck
- Severe headache
Other symptoms that can occur with this disease:
- Bulging fontanelles in infants
- Decreased consciousness
- Poor feeding or irritability in children
- Rapid breathing
- Unusual posture, with the head and neck arched backwards (opisthotonos)
The case-fatality rate of pneumococcal meningitis is about 8% among children and 22% among adults. Neurologic sequelae are common among survivors. Persons with a cochlear implant appear to be at increased risk of pneumococcal meningitis.
Certain people are at increased risk for bacterial meningitis. Some risk factors include:
- Age: Babies are at increased risk for bacterial meningitis compared to people in other age groups. However, people of any age can develop bacterial meningitis. See section above for which bacteria more commonly affect which age groups.
- Group setting: Infectious diseases tend to spread where large groups of people gather. College campuses have reported outbreaks of meningococcal disease, caused by N. meningitidis.
- Certain medical conditions: There are certain medical conditions, medications, and surgical procedures that put people at increased risk for meningitis.
- Working with meningitis-causing pathogens: Microbiologists routinely exposed to meningitis-causing bacteria are at increased risk for meningitis.
- Travel: Travelers may be at increased risk for meningococcal disease, caused by N. meningitidis, if they travel to certain places, such as:
- The meningitis belt in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly during the dry season
- Mecca during the annual Hajj and Umrah pilgrimage
How Is Pneumococcal Meningitis Transmitted?
Pneumococcal meningitis is transmitted from one person to another. The bacteria are spread through direct contact with the tiny droplets from an infected person’s mouth, throat, or nose. For example, if someone with the infection coughs or sneezes on or near you, you may contract the disease.
You can also contract the disease from an infected person by kissing or by sharing anything that comes into contact with the mouth such as:
- a cup
- a fork
- a straw
- a lipstick
- a cigarette
Up to 40 percent of the population may carry Streptococcus pneumonia. In most of these people, the bacteria are dormant, which means they’re not actively growing and replicating. However, the bacteria can be transmitted even when it’s dormant.
Living in places where large groups of people tend to live, such as dormitories, can increase your risk for infection.
(1) Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Bacterial Meningitis. https://www.cdc.gov/meningitis/bacterial.html.
(2) Healthline.com. Pneumococcal Meningitis. https://www.healthline.com/health/meningitis-pneumococcal
(3) Meningitis Research Foundation of Canada. Pneumococcal Meningitis. https://www.meningitis.ca/en/PneumococcalMeningitis