Pneumococcus, Pneumococcal Disease, and Prevention

Katherine L. O'Brien, Meena Ramakrishnan, Adam Finn, Richard Malley

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


First isolated in 1880 by Pasteur in the saliva of a patient with rabies, Streptococcus pneumoniae (also known as the pneumococcus) has been branded as the "captain of the men of death" by William Osler, for the nefarious role this organism plays in causing the demise of so many people particularly among the elderly. While certainly evocative, this description does not fully capture the intricate interaction between the pneumococcus bacteria and its human host, one characterized by repeated and persistent nasopharyngeal colonization events that start at the earliest age and can be documented throughout life. In the context of this relatively friendly coexistence, the pathology caused by this bacterium, which ranges from relatively benign (though thoroughly unpleasant) mucosal infections like otitis media and sinusitis to serious and potentially fatal conditions such as pneumonia, bacteremia, and meningitis, are relatively rare events in the host-pathogen relationship. Along with the great apes, humans are the main natural host for the pneumococcus; when other mammals develop pneumococcal disease, they are usually animals in captivity and acquire the organism through their handlers. The bacterium's relatively limited host range creates the potential for effective control by vaccination and it is precisely through the ability of newer vaccines to prevent or reduce the likelihood of nasopharyngeal colonization that the greatest impact on prevention of pneumococcal disease has been achieved.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Vaccine Book
Subtitle of host publicationSecond Edition
PublisherElsevier Inc.
Number of pages19
ISBN (Print)9780128021743
StatePublished - Jul 11 2016


  • AOM
  • Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine
  • Pneumococcal disease
  • Pneumococcus
  • Pneumonia
  • Streptococcus pneumoniae

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)


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