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 and adults older than age 65 receive.
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