The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that about 900,000 Americans get pneumococcal pneumonia each year, and approximately 6 percent of those infected die from the infection. Pneumococcal disease, an infection caused by Streptococcus pneumonia bacteria, and sometimes referred to as pneumococcus, is the most common cause of bloodstream infections, pneumonia, meningitis, and middle-ear infections in young children, according to the CDC. The most common form of pneumococcal disease in adults is pneumococcal pneumonia, or lung infection.
Pneumococcal bacteria is spread from person to person by direct contact with respiratory secretions, like saliva or mucus. Many people, especially children, have the bacteria in their nose or throat at one time or another without being ill.
Why is pneumococcal pneumonia so dangerous? We asked Dr. Sandra Kesh, infectious diseases specialist at WESTMED Medical Group to explain:
“Pneumococcal pneumonia is the cause of one-third of all cases of community-acquired pneumonia in the United States. The highest incidence of infection occurs in those less than 2 years of age, the elderly, and immuno-compromised hosts. Although mild infection can often be treated with oral antibiotics, severe infections usually require hospitalization. It is estimated that roughly 400,000 hospitalizations per year are attributable to this infection.”
We also asked Dr. Kesh what people can do to protect themselves from the disease:
“The best preventive method is vaccination and, fortunately, the more common strains of pneumococcal bacteria are preventable using two vaccines: PPSV23 (trade name, Pneumovax 23) and PCV 13 (trade name, Prevnar 13). Both vaccines are highly effective in producing immunity to some of the more severe strains of bacteria causing pneumococcal infection. The United States Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends both vaccines for individuals 65 years and older, and for younger patients with certain medical risk factors. Since the introduction of these vaccines, we have seen significant reductions in the incidence of serious pneumococcal infection in adults and children, and they remain an important part of our armamentarium against these diseases.”