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Streptococcal Pneumonia

What is streptococcal pneumonia?

Streptococcal pneumonia (formerly called pneumococcal pneumonia) is an infection of the lungs. It is a common type of bacterial pneumonia.

Streptococcal pneumonia can be passed from person to person through mucus and saliva, like the common cold. Fortunately it is not usually as contagious as colds.

How does it occur?

Streptococcal pneumonia is caused by bacteria called Streptococcus pneumoniae or pneumococcal bacteria. It often happens after an upper respiratory tract infection, such as a cold or the flu.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms include:

  • sudden illness, often after a cold or flu
  • fever and chills
  • feeling short of breath
  • chest pain, especially when you take a deep breath
  • cough that may produce rust-colored or bloody mucus.

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will review your symptoms and examine you. Your provider will check for fever and fast breathing. He or she will also listen to your lungs.

You may have the following tests, which help detect pneumonia. They also help your provider know what medicine you need:

  • chest X-ray
  • blood tests
  • lab tests of a sputum sample to look for bacteria (a sputum sample is a sample of mucus, also called phlegm, coughed up from deep in your lungs).

How is it treated?

In many cases, streptococcal pneumonia can be treated with antibiotics at home. Your healthcare provider may prescribe medicine you can take by mouth at home. Or your provider may arrange for you to have intravenous (IV) medicine at home or in the emergency room.

You may need to stay in the hospital if:

  • You are having a lot of trouble breathing.
  • It's hard for you to drink enough fluids.
  • You have other serious medical problems.
  • You have no one to care for you at home.

If you are hospitalized, in addition to your antibiotics:

  • You may be given oxygen.
  • You may be given IV fluids.
  • You will be checked often by nursing staff. Electronic equipment may track your pulse and breathing.
  • You may have X-rays taken several times during your stay.

How long will the effects last?

Usually you will begin to feel better after 2 to 3 days of antibiotics. If you are an otherwise healthy person, you should feel close to normal after a week or so. If you are over 60 years old or have other medical problems, it may take longer to feel normal.

How can I take care of myself?

  • Follow the full treatment prescribed by your healthcare provider.
  • Rest until you no longer have a fever, chest pain, or shortness of breath. Follow your healthcare provider's instructions for returning to activities such as school, work, or recreation.
  • Drink more liquids (water or tea) every day to help you cough up mucus more easily unless your provider says you need to limit fluids.
  • Cough up lung secretions as much as possible. Use cough medicine only if your provider recommends it.
  • Use a humidifier to put more moisture in the air. Avoid steam vaporizers because they can cause burns. Be sure to keep the humidifier clean, as recommended in the manufacturer's instructions. It's important to keep bacteria and fungi from growing in the water container.
  • Ask your provider about taking aspirin, ibuprofen, or acetaminophen for fever or chest pain.
    • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen and aspirin, may cause stomach bleeding and other problems. These risks increase with age. Read the label and take as directed. Unless recommended by your healthcare provider, do not take for more than 10 days for any reason.
    • Check with your healthcare provider before you give any medicine that contains aspirin or salicylates to a child or teen. This includes medicines like baby aspirin, some cold medicines, and Pepto-Bismol. Children and teens who take aspirin are at risk for a serious illness called Reye's syndrome.
  • Use a heating pad on a low setting to reduce chest pain. To prevent burns, be careful not to fall asleep while you are using the heating pad.
  • Call your healthcare provider if you feel you are getting worse or if you are not getting better in 2 to 3 days.

How can I prevent streptococcal pneumonia from recurring?

  • Follow the prescribed course of treatment, including taking all of the antibiotic medicines prescribed for you.
  • Get a flu shot every October to protect against flu.
  • Ask your healthcare provider if you should get the pneumococcal pneumonia vaccine.
  • Practice good health habits, including having a healthy diet, getting enough exercise and rest, and not smoking.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2010-12-16
Last reviewed: 2010-07-06
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2011 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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