Streptococcus pneumoniae

Definition

Streptococcus pneumoniae is a bacteria that is commonly found in the nose and throat. The bacteria can sometimes cause severe illness in children, the elderly and other people with weakened immune systems. Streptococcus pneumoniae is the most common cause of middle ear infections, sepsis (blood infection) in children and pneumonia in immunocompromised individuals and the elderly. It can also cause meningitis (inflammation of the coverings of the brain and spinal cord) or sinus infections. It is considered invasive when it is found in the blood, spinal fluid or other normally sterile sites (sites where it is not commonly found).

Symptoms

Symptoms generally include an abrupt onset of fever and shaking or chills. Other symptoms may include headache, cough, chest pain, disorientation, shortness of breath, weakness, and occasionally a stiff neck.

Causes

Many people carry the bacteria in their nose and throat without becoming ill. Streptococcus pneumoniae is spread from person to person by inhaling or direct exposure to the bacteria droplets through coughing or sneezing from an infected person.

Risk Factors

Anyone can get pneumococcal disease, it occurs more frequently in infants, young children, the elderly or in people with serious medical conditions such as chronic lung, heart or kidney disease. Others at risk include alcoholics, diabetics, people with weakened immune systems and those without a spleen.

Prevention

There are two types of pneumococcal vaccine that can prevent invasive Streptococcus pneuomoniae infections- the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine and the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine. These two vaccines provide protection against the most common types of Streptococcus pneumoniae. Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine is recommended for all children less than 24 months old and for children between 24 and 59 months of age who are at risk of disease. All adults who are older than 65 years of age and persons who are two years of age and older and at high risk for disease (e.g., sickle cell disease, HIV infection, or other conditions that weaken the immune system) should receive the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine.

The best way to prevent the spread of the bacteria is by frequent handwashing and by covering your mouth when coughing or sneezing.

Treatment

Invasive Streptococcus pneumoniae infections are treated with antibiotics. There is an increasing problem of Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria developing drug resistance due to the overuse and misuse of antibiotics.

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