Streptococcus Pneumoniae: Spreading and Prevention of the Bacterial Infection

Streptococcus Pneumoniae

Streptococcus pneumoniae is an alpha-hemolytic, which suggests it can break down RBCs by producing hydrogen peroxide. When a bacterial infection like S. pneumoniae produces hydrogen peroxide, it causes damage to the DNA, killing cells in your lung. One of the most common diseases caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae is Pneumococcal pneumonia, which causes coughs, chills, chest pain and difficulty breathing. In case the infection spreads to your brain and spinal cord, it can lead to pneumococcal meningitis. Pneumococcal meningitis is noticed by fever, stiff neck, headaches and confusion.

Streptococcus Pneumoniae

In Molecular Medical Microbiology Research on Streptococcus Penumoniae, Mario Ramirez revealed the typical aspects of these infectious diseases and pathogen evolution. However, pneumococci still remains a main cause of mortality and morbidity. Some recent insights into the pathogenic mechanisms of the species made it clear that the capsular polysaccharide has a key role in the process. However, there are proteins that also have significant functions to have an interaction with the host.

The ability of pneumococci for DNA exchange is central in the adaptation to the human-imposed typical pressures. Moreover, our understanding of the mechanisms is continuously raising questions about the bacteria’s evolution. With support of a greater knowledge of the pneumococci bacteria, fresh new diagnostic tests showed up that combined with the points defining resistance to penicillin and the introduction of conjugate vaccines. This in turn, is changing our concept of the pressures of pneumococcal disease and the approaches made to avoid and tea the infections caused by this particular pathogen.


Louis Pasteur first separated S. pneumoniae from the saliva of a patient having rabies in the year 1881. But, it was Taloman and Friedlander who reported the bacteria in association with lobar pneumonia in 1883. Although there were constant efforts made to produce pneumococcal vaccine since 1911, but the first sample was not released in the US until 1977. The first conjugate pneumococcal vaccine was released in the market in 2000.

S. pneumoniae is a gram-positive, lancet-shaped, facultative anaerobic organism that basically occurs in short chains and pairs. Encapsulated S. pneumoniae is classified on the basis of the capsular polysaccharide and is pathogenic for humans.


Pneumococcal infections are evident across the world and are found common during early spring and winter. Even though S. pneumoniae pneumonia affects people of all populations, it is usually common in individuals more than 65 years of age, below 2 years of age and in people who smoke, have asthma, COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), abuse alcohol or are asplenic.

 S. Pneumoniae infections

Pneumococcal disease is a mild and common infection, but can lead to serious infections if ignored. Some of the common problems include a blood infection, pneumonia, ear infection or bacterial meningitis.

Each year, pneumococcal infection leads to 1 to 2 million infant deaths across the world. During the influenza epidemics, S, pneumoniae associates with higher mortality in individuals affected with both the microorganisms. When Haemophilius influenzae and S. pneumoniae show a synergetic effect on each other, while targeting the same host.

Streptococcus pneumoniae is a bacterium that is also called pneumococcus, which causes pneumococcal disease.

Pneumococcal disease when turns invasive, becomes a life-threatening condition that is fatal in more than 10 percent of situations. People more than 645 years of age and the ones who have underlying medical issues are at higher risk of serious complications.

Taking regular vaccinations can help in avoiding the various types of pneumococcal diseases and their potential complications.

Spreading of Pneumococcal disease

S. pneumoniae bacteria is most common in the noses and throats of children. The bacteria is capable of spreading through air droplets. Suppose a person having a S. pneumoniae infection sneezes or coughs, he or she may infect people around them. However, the bacteria doesn’t transfer through contaminated water or food.

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Most people who are exposed to the harmful bacteria show know peculiar symptoms as the immune system fights against the germs from spreading to other parts of the body.

However, a person having a weakened immune system can be at the potential risk of spreading of the bacteria. S. pneumoniae bacterium an spread from the throat to the blood, middle ear, lungs, sinuses or the brain, which further leads to serious infections

You might have a compromised immune system due to:

  • A condition affecting your immune system directly, such s AIDS or HIV
  • Taking medication that suppresses your immune system, like medicines prescribed after an autoimmune condition or organ transplant.
  • Undergoing specific medical treatments, like chemotherapy
  • Contraction of another severe infection, like influenza

Prevention of pneumococcal disease

Pneumococcal vaccine can help you prevent pneumococcal disease caused by the Streptococcus pneumoniae. Here are the guidelines for taking a pneumococcal vaccine

  • Older adults over 65 years of age should receive the PPSV23 vaccine (23-valent pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine).
  • Younger adults who smoke or have specific medical issues mentioned above should receive PPSV23 vaccine.
  • Children of or below 5 years of age get 4 doses of a different type of pneumococcal vaccine, PCV 13 (13-valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine).You must ensure the child receives all the suggested doses of the conjugate vaccine
  • For children between the age of 6 and 18 & adults over 19 years of age receive one dose of PVCV 13 vaccine. If you have any medical conditions, your doctor will suggest the 13-valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine.

Follow proper hygiene and cleanliness:

  • Along with receiving a vaccine, it is also important to maintain proper hygiene to avoid a pneumococcal disease or S. pneumoniae infection.
  • Wash your hands frequently
  • Do not touch your mouth, nose or eyes. If you want to, ensure you have clean hands.
  • Use a sanitizer to keep your hands germ-free in workplace and public places.
  • Avoid close contact such as hugging, kissing or sharing dishes, food, cups, with infected people.

Risk factors of a S. pneumoniae infection

The common risk factors for a S. pneumioniae infection include:

  • Adults over 65 years of age are at greater risk of the infection
  • Alcoholism
  • Asplenia or hyposplenisa (Absense of normal spleen function)
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Influenza
  • HIV infection
  • Issues in the immune system, like the antibodies or complement cascades
  • Virulent strains of S. Pneumoniae

Diagnosis of a S. pneumoniae infection/disease

Doctors identify the presence of S. pneumoniae by culturing bacterial samples on blood agar. Because of its hemolytic properties, the bacteria turns blood agar into dark green. But, growing bacterial cultures can take some time to show any effect. Therefore, doctors use more efficient and modern techniques to identify any strains of S, pneumoniae bacteria.

The first popular technique to diagnose the infection is to detect parts of the streptococcus bacteria, called antigens, in the urine. The main component of its cell walls, C polysaccharide can be detected in various bodily fluids. Medical experts carry out Immunochromatography to test for the specific antigens. It is favorable process to diagnose bacteria as compared to bacterial culture.

The second technique includes an assay depending on the presence of S. pneumoniae-specific DNA sequences. It is a fast diagnosis method that minimizes the risk of error with its high specificity with use of DNA as a target.

Treatment of a S. pneumoniae infection

The first approved treatment of bacterial infections is antibiotics. These are also quite efficient in treating pneumococcus infections. However, the particular treatment of pneumococcal diseases is based on the strain that causes the infection in a individual. There are some S. pneumoniae strains that have acquired antibiotic-resistance and it becomes difficult to treat such strains using antibiotics. So, in cases where there’s a situation of susceptibility to antibiotics, your doctor will look for some other treatment course for the condition.

‘Prevention is better than cure’ has been the mantra for avoiding a serious health complication. So, vaccination against S. pneumoniae is the best thing your doctor will suggest you. There are two types of pneumococcal vaccines for prevention of these infections. Both the vaccines aim to a single mechanism – delivery of antigens to instigate a response from the host’s immune system. There are several other vaccines being tested to combat the occurrence of S. pneumoniae infection completely.

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FAQs on Streptococcus pneumoniae

What is pneumococcus or Streptococcus pneumoniae?

S. Pneumoinia or pneumococcus is a bacterium that is responsible for respiratory infections in adults and children, It is also a common cause of meningitis and bacterial ear infection in kids. The bacterial infection is more common in adults and results in pneumonia in older adults (over 65 years of age) who fail to fight against the infection due to weakened immune system.

All of us have the bacteria present in our throat and nose without it causing sickness. 10-40% of individuals with a healthy immune system carry the S. pneumoniae bacteria without it causing any conditions of illness.

These kinds of infections are most common a person have cold, especially during winter season.

How do bacteria transmit?

The bacteria transfer from one person to another by direct contact and through the air droplets. When a person infected with S. pneumoniae sneezes or coughs, the bacteria releases in the air and travels in form of droplets. This way it spreads to others in the surrounding.

Who is at a risk of a pneumococcal infection/disease?

Annually, 1 out of every 500 individuals will suffer from severe S. pneumoniae infection. People without a spleen or the ones with health issues like heart disease, lung disease, kidney failure, diabetes, kidney failure, cirrhosis, AIDS/HIV and various other chronic illnesses are at a risk of getting the infection. It is because they are exposed to strong treatments that weaken their immune system, thus, decreasing the ability to fight the bacterial infections. People who are on treatment, like chemotherapy, steroids and radiation therapy, older adults with a record of recent influenza and people who have just had an organ transplant or surgery are at a greater risk of having the bacterial infection.

How is the infection treated?

Pneumococcal infections are generally treated with antibiotics. The most effective and common antibiotics to treat the condition is Penicillin. In case the bacteria turn antibiotic-resistant, the doctor prescribes another antibiotic suitable for the situation. Mostly, it takes around a day or two for the treatment to show response. You need not worry about the bacteria present in your throat and nose, unless you feel sick.

How can you prevent the infection?

A vaccine is available for people who are at a higher risk of serious infection. A doctor decides whether you or a family member should get the vaccination on bases of your medical history and current health conditions. Doctors give vaccines in single doses to adults and in multiple doses to kids. It provides almost 80% protection against the pneumococcal infections.

Should I get the pneumococcal vaccine?

Here’s a list of groups of people who should take pneumococcal vaccine:

  • Older adults over 65 years of age;
  • Asplenic or hyposplenic adults (absence of spleen, spleenic dysfunction or sickle cell disease)
  • Asplenic or hyposplenic children (absence of spleen, spleenic dysfunction or sickle cell disease)

Adults with the following conditions:

  • Cirrhosis
  • Alcoholism
  • chronic kidney disease/failure
  • diabetes
  • chronic cerebrospinal fluid leak
  • HIV infection and other immunosuppressive conditions (Hodgkin’s disease, lymphoma, multiple myeloma or organ transplant)

Children at the age of 2 having health issues, such as:

  • kidney disease/failure
  • chronic cerebrospinal fluid leak
  • HIV infection and other immunosuppressive conditions

Do I need to worry about any side effects of the vaccine?

The reactions of a single dose of vaccine is normally which gets over within a day or two. You might experience local redness and soreness at the site of injection. You might also experience swelling in the area of injection. If it doesn’t go away in a few days, book an appointment with your doctor.

The Bottom Line

Streptococcus Pneumoniae is bacteria that cause respiratory infections like pneumococcal pneumonia and other kinds of lung disease, blood infections, etc. The main symptoms of S. pneumoniae infection are fever, chills, headaches, coughs, chest pain and difficulty breathing. Doctors suggest antibiotics like penicillin to treat a pneumococcal disease. It is usually common in older adults over the age of 65 years, who have a weakened immune system, people with chronic illness like diabetes, heart disease, lung disease and people who have undergone a medical treatment like chemotherapy or organ transplant recently.

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