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Streptococcus pneumoniae is a bacteria that causes pneumococcal disease. The Streptococcus pneumoniae is found in many regions around the world and its most common host is the human body. Streptococcus pneumoniae is a gram-positive coccus which is often found in pairs of cocci or diplococci. At times the bacteria can exist in short chains or even individually and when they are cultured in blood agar, they demonstrate alpha hemolysis. The Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria can cause various types of diseases such as pneumonia which is the infection of the lungs, ear infections, sinus infections, meningitis which is the infection around the brain and spinal cord, and bacteremia which is an infection in the bloodstream.
In the event the physician suspects the patient has invasive pneumococcal disease or non-invasive pneumococcal pneumonia, they can perform various diagnostic tests to confirm the presence of the Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria. Some of the tests require samples such as cerebrospinal fluid or blood in the case of invasive pneumococcal disease suspicion (Center for Disease Control). On the other hand, non-invasive pneumococcal pneumonia may require urine samples for running laboratory tests.
A gram test can be performed on the sputum of the infected person in an attempt to check whether they are infected with the Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria. From the sputum during the laboratory test, when there is presence of neutrophils and more than ten gram- positive diplococci it indicates the diagnosis of Streptococcus pneumoniae. However, a further confirmation test can be done called to ascertain the presence of the bacteria streaked on blood agar (Ballough). The blood agar test helps in confirmation as the Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria exhibits alpha haemolysis whereby there will be green coloring around the colonies of the bacteria on the agar.
Rapid testing is another way to test for Streptococcus pneumoniae during the diagnosis of the patient. The rapid test using a simple urine antigen test (UAT) helps to easily and accurately identify the Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria. The Urine antigen test is based on immunochromatographic technique that helps to identify the C-polysaccharide antigen associated with Streptococcus pneumoniae (Test Target Treat). The rapid test acquires its name because the whole process takes only 15 minutes for analysis and detection of the bacteria.
Another test for Streptococcus pneumoniae is the serological assay for pneumococcus whereby serum samples are obtained from the patients and the concentration of IgG antibodies to C polysaccharide and pneumolysin are analysed in the laboratory. The values of the serological assay for pneumococcus are said to be positive if there was more than 2 fold increase in the IgG titers to the C polysaccharide or pneumolysin from the patient’s serum sample.
Symptoms of illnesses caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae
Among the various diseases caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria, pneumonia is the most common disease which causes an infection in the lungs. With pneumonia, the alveoli located in the lungs get filled up with serous fluid from the Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria and spreads to other parts of the lungs. Other symptoms of pneumonia are such as fever and chills, chest pains, breathing difficulty due to the fluid in the alveoli, and rapid breathing because of the reduced surface area of alveoli (Center for Disease Control). The elderly people with pneumonia may experience low alertness and confusion.
Another disease associated with Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria is bacteremia whereby the bloodstream gets infected with bacteria. The presence of Streptococcus pneumoniae in the blood can infect the meninges in the brain bringing about pneumococcal meningitis. Meningitis is a disease which affects the tissue covering the brain and spinal cord which get damaged. Symptoms of pneumococcal meningitis are such as fever, confusion, stiff neck, constant headaches and photophobia (Center for Disease Control).
The Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria also causes respiratory tract infection such as the paranasal sinuses known as sinusitis whereby the tissue lining the sinuses get swollen up or inflamed with fluid. Another disease caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae is otitis which is an ear infection (Ballough). Sometimes the bacterium causes peritonitis which is an inflammation of the peritoneum which is the lining that covers the abdominal wall.
There are various ways which can be used to treat the infections as a result of the Streptococcus pneumoniae. One of the most common ways to treat infections resulting from Streptococcus pneumoniae is by using antibiotics. Broad spectrum antibiotics can be used to treat invasive pneumococcal infections as they work against a wide range of different bacteria (Center for Disease Control). In the case of severe infection of pneumococcal infections, penicillin G can be used for treatment. On the other hand, for mild pneumococcal infections, penicillin V is used for treatment (Ballough).
In spite of the antibiotics being effective in the treatment of pneumococcal infections, the bacteria have become resistant to some antibiotics, therefore, creating a need for a much powerful antibiotic drug (Center for Disease Control). However, erythromycin has proven to be effective against the antibiotic resistant bacteria.
Aside from treatment pneumococcal infections can be prevented through the administration of a vaccine. The pneumococcal conjugate vaccine is currently the most effective vaccine against the Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria as it offers less antibiotic resistance pneumococcal infections. Adults being vaccinated against Streptococcus pneumoniae should get the 23-valent vaccine (PPSV23) while children under the age of 18 should get the (PCV13) vaccine (Center for Disease Control).
In addition to vaccination as a way to prevent pneumococcal infections hygiene and cleanliness greatly facilitate the prevention of such infections. In an attempt to prevent the contraction and infection of pneumococcal diseases, it is advisable to wash your hands often with soap and water, use hand sanitizer which contains 60% alcohol, cover the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, and avoid close contact with infected people like hugging, sharing utensils, kissing among other activities (Center for Disease Control).
Individuals at Risk
Generally, pneumococcal infections can occur anywhere in the world but there are several individuals or environments that create a higher risk of people getting infected with the Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria. The people who get infected with the pneumococcal infections are children and the elderly because they have a weakened immune system. The risk group includes people over the age of 65 and children younger than 2 years (Center for Disease Control). Also, travellers are at higher risk of getting infected with pneumococcal infections especially if they are travelling to regions where the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine is not routinely used such as developing countries.
People dwelling in regions that experience winter are at a higher risk of getting infected with the pneumococcal infections during the winter period or during the onset of spring season. Individuals who have pre-existing medical conditions that weaken the immune system such as individuals with HIV/AIDS, heart disease, or lung disease have a higher chance of getting infected with pneumococcal infections (Center for Disease Control). Smokers, as well as individuals with asthma, have an increased chance of contracting the diseases brought about by the Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria and may find it difficult recovering from the condition.
Ballough, Robert. “Streptococcus Pneumoniae” Retrieved from: http://web.uconn.edu/mcbstaff/graf/Student%20presentations/Streptococcuspneu/Spneumoniae.html
Center for Disease Control. “Pneumococcal Disease (Streptococcus pneumoniae)” 2013. Retrieved from: https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/diseases/pneumococcal-disease-streptococcus-pneumoniae
Center for Disease Control. “Pneumococcal Disease: Diagnosis and Treatment” 2017. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/pneumococcal/about/diagnosis-treatment.html
Test Target Treat. “The Problem, the Consequences, and Rapid Testing Solutions” 2018. Retrieved from: https://www.testtargettreat.com/en/home/rapid-diagnostics/pneumococcal-pneumonia.html
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