Pneumococci are among the bacterial flora of the oropharynx in half of the population and do not result in diseases in these people. People only fall ill if their immune system is compromised. In Germany approx. 1300 children fall ill every year (estimation) due to an invasive pneumococcal disease such as pneumonia, meningitis and sepsis. In 1998 18 of them (8%) generally died of pneumococcal meningitis while the majority of them had risk factors such as immune defects or immune suppressive therapy (ESPED 1998). In 1999 there were nine deaths (4%) (ESPD 1999) (arznei-telegramm 2001). In 2002 a total of 114 cases of meningitis in children were registered and 130 cases of other serious diseases caused by pneumococci (ESPED (Erhebungseinheit für seltene pädiatrische Erkrankungen in Deutschland): Invasive Infektionen durch Streptococcus Pneumoniae (Pneumokokken). http://www.esped.uni-duesseldorf.de/jabe2002_r.htm#pneumos). Six of the children affected died, 20 retained neurological symptoms as a result of the meningitis. In 3 of the 6 children the immune defect was caused by a missing spleen.
The estimate is that there are approx. 12000 deaths in Germany due to pneumococci. The elderly are the most affected: 90% of the victims are older than 60 years old. Three of four doctors therefore recommend that older patients get the vaccination.
Smokers are four times as liable to come down with a pneumococcal infection as non-smokers (The New England Journal of Medicine, Vol. 342, 2000, Seiten 681 - 689)