Bacterial Diseases

What are bacterial diseases, and what causes them?

Chlamydia, Pneumococcal Disease, Meningococcal Meningitis, and Scarlet Fever are four common bacterial diseases.


Chlamydia is a bacteria that infects three million people every year in the U.S. It is the most common sexually transmitted disease (STD). A chlamydial infection can be transmitted during vaginal, oral, or anal sex with someone who is infected. 

About 75 percent of women infected have few or no symptoms. Early symptoms usually appear one to three weeks after exposure. For men and women, these symptoms are abnormal genital discharge and pain during urination. Early symptoms may be absent or very mild. Without testing and treatment, the infection can last up to 15 months. As a result, the disease is often not diagnosed until complicatons develop.

Without treatment, up to 40 percent of women with chlamydia may develop pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID can result in scarring of the fallopian tubes and prevent fertilization from taking place. Scarring from PID may also interfere with the fertized egg to the uterus. When this happens, the egg may implant in the fallopian tube, resulting in loss of the fetus. This is a major cause of maternal death in the U.S. Chlamydia can be transmitted to the baby in the birthing process.

In men, untreated chlamydia usually causes urethral infection but also may rsult in other complicatons such as swollen and tender testicles. Untreated, this condition (like PID in women) can result in infertility and cause proctitis (inflamed rectum) and conjunctivitis. A chlamydial infection can be treated with certain antibiotics.

Using condoms during sexual intercourse is the only highly effective way to prevent becoming infected With STDS. It is important to use a condom consistently every time you have any form of sex.

Pneumococcal Disease

Pneumococcus is a bacterium (germ) that can cause a variety of infections in people, particularly in the young, the elderly, and the immunocompromised. Some of the infections include the following:

  • blood infections
  • Meningitis (brain infection)
  • ear infections
  • lung infections
  • sinus infections
  • upper respiratory infections

Treating pneumococcal infections with antibiotics used to be effective, but the bacteria are becoming more and more resistant to these drugs. Vaccines are now available to protect against pneumococcal disease. There are two types of vaccines available: one for use in children under the age of two and one for use in persons two to 64 with certain chronic illnesses and those 65 and older.

Meningococcal Meningitis

Meningococcal menginitis—sometimes called spinal meningitis—is a potentially life–threatening infection that affects the brain and spinal cord. In some cases, the infection involves the bloodstream causing a serious blood infection. Early symptoms include:

  • high fever
  • headache
  • neck stiffness
  • nausea/vomiting
  • rash
  • confusion
  • photophobia (reaction to bright light)

Occurrence of meningoicoccal disease peaks in late winter and early spring. Early treatment is essential, because the infection can rapidly progress into bacteria in the bloodstream (bloodstream infection). The bacteria are spread from person to person through respiratory droplets and by direct contact with the oral and respiratory secretions of an infected individual.

A safe and effective vaccine is available, which is 85 to 100 percent effective in protecting against four groups of bacteria that cause approximately 70 percent of the disease in the U.S. No vaccine protects 100 percent of susceptible indivuals.

Scarlet Fever

Scarlet fever is a bacterial "strepthroat" infection. People with scarlet fever also have a bright red rash. Common symptoms are:

  • fever, chills, sore throat
  • swollen glands in the neck
  • a red rash that spreads all over the body
  • a bright red "strawberry" tongue
  • children may have abdominal pain

The rash can start one to two days after the sore throat. The skin can be rough like sandpaper and a bright red color. The rash does not occur on the palms of the hands or soles of the feet. The skin can blanch (turn white) when pressed. The rash does not itch or hurt. The rash can resemble sunburned skin with peeling of the fingers and toes.

Antibiotics are commonly prescribed for the treatment of scarlet fever. Although the sore throat may be gone a day or two after starting the antibiotics, the rash may last seven to nine days.

Scarlet fever is less common today, because there are antibiotics to treat it. Untreated scarlet fever can lead to serious life–long heart or kidney problems.

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