|Classification and external resources|
Pneumococcal infection refers to an infection caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae.
Types of infection caused
S. pneumoniae is responsible for 15–50% of all episodes of community acquired pneumonia, 30–50% of all cases of acute otitis media and a significant proportion of bacteremia and bacterial meningitis. As estimated by WHO in 2005 it killed about 1.6 million children every year worldwide with 0.7–1 million of them being under the age of five. The majority of these deaths were in developing countries.
S. pneumoniae is normally found in the bacteremia) and is carried to the meninges, joint spaces, bones, and peritoneal cavity, and may result in meningitis, brain abscess, septic arthritis, or osteomyelitis.
S. pneumoniae has several virulence factors, including the polysaccharide capsule mentioned earlier, that help it evade a host's immune system. It has pneumococcal surface proteins that inhibit complement-mediated opsonization, and it secretes IgA1 protease that will destroy secretory IgA produced by the body and mediates its attachment to respiratory mucosa.
The risk of pneumococcal infection is much increased in persons with impaired IgG synthesis, impaired phagocytosis, or defective clearance of pneumococci. In particular, the absence of a functional spleen, through congenital asplenia, splenectomy, or sickle-cell disease predisposes one to a more severe course of infection (Overwhelming post-splenectomy infection) and prevention measures are indicated (see asplenia).
People whose immune system is compromised, such as those living with HIV, are also at higher risk of pneumococcal disease. In HIV patients with access to treatment, the risk of invasive pneumoccal disease is 0.2–1% per year and has a fatality rate of 8%.
There is an association between pneumococcal pneumonia and influenza. Damage to the lining of the airways (respiratory epithelium) and upper respiratory system caused by influenza may facilitate pneumococcal entry and infection.
S. pneumoniae expresses different virulence factors on its cell surface and inside the organism. These virulence factors contribute to some of the clinical manifestations during infection with S. pneumoniae.
- Polysaccharide capsule—prevents phagocytosis by host immune cells by inhibiting C3b opsonization of the bacterial cells
- Pneumolysin (Ply)—a 53-kDa pore-forming protein that can cause lysis of host cells and activate complement
- Autolysin (LytA)—activation of this protein lyses the bacteria releasing its internal contents (i.e., pneumolysin)
- Hydrogen peroxide—causes damage to host cells (can cause apoptosis in neuronal cells during meningitis) and has bactericidal effects against competing bacteria (Haemophilus influenzae, Neisseria meningitidis, Staphylococcus aureus)
- Pili—hair-like structures that extend from the surface of many strains of S. pneumoniae. They contribute to colonization of upper respiratory tract and increase the formation of large amounts of TNF by the immune system during sepsis, raising the possibility of septic shock
- Choline binding protein A/Pneumococcal surface protein A (CbpA/PspA)—an adhesin that can interact with carbohydrates on the cell surface of pulmonary epithelial cells and can inhibit complement-mediated opsonization of pneumococci
In the 19th century, it was demonstrated that immunization of rabbits with killed pneumococci protected them against subsequent challenge with viable pneumococci. Serum from immunized rabbits or from humans who had recovered from pneumococcal pneumonia also conferred protection. In the 20th century, the efficacy of immunization was demonstrated in South African miners.
It was discovered that the pneumococcus's capsule made it resistant to phagocytosis, and in the 1920s it was shown that an antibody specific for capsular polysaccharide aided the killing of S. pneumoniae. In 1936, a pneumococcal capsular polysaccharide vaccine was used to abort an epidemic of pneumococcal pneumonia. In the 1940s, experiments on capsular transformation by pneumococci first identified DNA as the material that carries genetic information.
In 1900, it was recognized that different serovars of pneumococci exist, and that immunization with a given serovar did not protect against infection with other serovars. Since then over ninety serovars have been discovered, each with a unique polysaccharide capsule that can be identified by the quellung reaction. Because some of these serovars cause disease more commonly than others, it is possible to provide reasonable protection by immunizing with less than 90 serovars; the current vaccine contains 23 serovars (i.e., it is "23-valent").
The serovars are numbered according to two systems: the American system, which numbers them in the order in which they were discovered, and the Danish system, which groups them according to antigenic similarities.
Depending on the nature of infection, an appropriate sample is collected for laboratory identification. Pneumococci are typically gram-positive, cocci, seen in pairs or chains. When cultured on blood agar plates with added optochin antibiotic disk, they show alpha-hemolytic colonies and a clear zone of inhibition around the disk meaning they're sensitive to the antibiotic. Pneumococci are also bile soluble. Just like other streptococci, they are catalase-negative. A Quellung test can identify specific capsular polysaccharides.
Pneumococcal antigen (cell wall C polysaccharide) may be detected in various body fluids. Older detection kits, based on latex agglutination, added little value above Gram staining and were occasionally false-positive. Better results are achieved with rapid immunochromatography, which has a sensitivity (identifies the cause) of 70–80% and >90% specificity (when positive identifies the actual cause) in pneumococcal infections. The test was initially validated on urine samples, but has been applied successfully to other body fluids. Chest X-rays can also be conducted to confirm an infection.
Throughout history, treatment relied primarily on β-lactam antibiotics. In the 1960s, nearly all strains of S. pneumoniae were susceptible to  There is slight clinical evidence that penicillins may act synergistically with macrolides to improve outcomes.
Vaccines against Streptococcus pneumoniae are available.
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- November 2nd: World Pneumonia Day Website
- Pneumococcal Vaccine Accelerated Development and Introduction Plan