Pneumococcal disease is the collective name for the infections caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria, also known as pneumococcus. This bacteria finds a home all over the body. The most common types of infections caused by S. pneumoniae are middle ear infections, pneumonia, bacteremia (blood stream infections), sinus infections and bacterial meningitis. There are more than 90 types of pneumococcus, with the 10 most common types responsible for 62 percent of the world's invasive diseases.
Those infected carry the bacteria in their throats and expel it when they cough or sneeze. Like any other germ, S. pneumoniae can infect anyone, but certain population groups are more at risk, such as the elderly, people with cancer or AIDS and people with a chronic illness such as diabetes. The CDC blames pneumococcal disease for the deaths of 200 children under the age of 5 each year in the United States. WHO estimates that annually pneumococcal disease is responsible for 1 million fatal cases of respiratory illness alone; most of these cases occur in developing countries.
There are two types of vaccines available to prevent pneumococcal disease, which the CDC recommends that children receive. In June 2019, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices — the experts who advise U.S. vaccine policy — stopped saying that all adults 65 or older should get the vaccine, too, instead suggesting that senior patients should discuss it individually with their doctor.
Since pneumococcal diseases are bacterial, doctors may treat them with antibiotics, but as with other bacteria out there, resistance can get in the way of successful treatment.
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