Streptococcus pneumoniae, a bacterium of which more than 90 subtypes are known.
Transmission via air-borne infection
As of late it has been observed that the number of penicillin-resistant bacteria is on the rise primarily in Spain and in Hungary.
Pneumococci can be made responsible for a number of diseases. Among others they can cause:
- Pneumonia: generally affects a whole lobe of the lung and starts with a high fever, a feeling of being seriously ill, cough, pleurisy, shortness of breath. Complications include spreading bacteria throughout the whole body, which can also affect the pericardium. What is so dangerous about pneumococcal pneumonia is that the course it takes is usually so ferocious that even immediate treatment with antibiotics frequently cannot prevent the death of the patient
- Acute middle ear infection: this is a disease that mainly affects small children which can cause severe complications that originate in the ear: purulent meningitis or thrombosis of the main cerebral vessels.
- Acute purulent meningitis: the mortality rate is enormous: 60-80% of the patients who develop acute purulent meningitis either as the sole manifestation or in the context of a pneumococcal disease localized at another site (middle ear infection, pneumonia)
- Other severe pneumococcal diseases include: endocardial infection, peritonitis and the joints (like arthritis)
The disease generally occurs only if the immune system is weakened or in many cases also due to an immunosuppressive therapy.
Therapy consists of antibiotics. What is problematic is the increasing resistance of the antibiotics to pneumococci.
Resistance to antibiotics:
A prospective cohort trial in Canberra, Australia demonstrated that with every additional day of antibiotics the ratio for resistant pneumococci increased by 4%. The tendency of resistant pneumococci spreading could drop if fewer antibiotics were prescribed, is the conclusion the authors drew from this trial. (D. Nasrin et al.: "Effect of beta lactam antibiotic use in children on pneumococcal resistance to penicillin: prospective cohort study" BMJ 2002;324:28)
Surviving the disease only gives the person immunity against a certain serotype and not against the whole range of bacteria.