Pneumococcal pneumonia is a common but serious infection and inflammation of the lungs. It is caused by the bacterium Streptococcus pneumoniae.
The gram-positive, spherical bacteria, Streptococcus pneumoniae, is the cause of many human diseases, including pneumonia. Although the bacteria can normally be found in the nose and throat of healthy individuals, it can grow and cause infection when the immune system is weakened. Infection usually begins with the upper respiratory tract and then travels into the lungs. Pneumonia occurs when the bacteria find their way deep into the lungs, to the area called the alveoli, or air sacs. This is the functional part of the lungs where oxygen is absorbed into the blood. Once in the alveoli, Streptococcus pneumoniae begin to grow and multiply. White blood cells and immune proteins from the blood also accumulate at the site of infection in the alveoli. As the alveoli fill with these substances and fluid, they can no longer function in the exchange of oxygen. This fluid filling of the lungs is how pneumonia is defined.
Those people most at risk of developing pneumococcal pneumonia have a weakened immune system. This includes the elderly, infants, cancer patients, AIDS patients, post-operative patients, alcoholics, and those with diabetes. Pneumococcal pneumonia is a disease that has a high rate of hospital transmission, putting hospital patients at greater risk. Prior lung infections also makes someone more likely to develop pneumococcal pneumonia. The disease can be most severe in patients who have had their spleen removed. It is the spleen that is responsible for removing the bacteria from the blood. Cases of pneumonia, which is spread by close contact, seem to occur most often between November through April. If not treated, the disease can spread, causing continually decreasing lung function, heart problems, and arthritis.
Cindy L. A. Jones PhD, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit,