Analyzing population-based data collected over 30 years in more than 18,000 patients with invasive pneumococcal infection, Zitta Harboe and colleagues find specific pneumococcal serotypes to be associated with increased mortality.
Pneumococcal disease is a leading cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide. The aim of this study was to investigate the association between specific pneumococcal serotypes and mortality from invasive pneumococcal disease (IPD).
Methods and Findings
In a nationwide population-based cohort study of IPD in Denmark during 1977–2007, 30-d mortality associated with pneumococcal serotypes was examined by multivariate logistic regression analysis after controlling for potential confounders. A total of 18,858 IPD patients were included. Overall 30-d mortality was 18%, and 3% in children younger than age 5 y. Age, male sex, meningitis, high comorbidity level, alcoholism, and early decade of diagnosis were significantly associated with mortality. Among individuals aged 5 y and older, serotypes 31, 11A, 35F, 17F, 3, 16F, 19F, 15B, and 10A were associated with highly increased mortality as compared with serotype 1 (all: adjusted odds ratio ≥3, p<0.001). In children younger than 5 y, associations between serotypes and mortality were different than in adults but statistical precision was limited because of low overall childhood-related mortality.
Specific pneumococcal serotypes strongly and independently affect IPD associated mortality.
Pneumococcal diseases—illnesses caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria—are leading causes of illness and death around the world. S. pneumoniae is transmitted through contact with infected respiratory secretions and usually causes noninvasive diseases such as ear infections and bronchitis. Sometimes, however, the bacteria invade the lungs (where they cause pneumonia), the bloodstream (where they cause bacteremia), or the covering of the brain (where they cause meningitis). These invasive pneumococcal diseases (IPDs) are often fatal. One million children die annually from pneumococcal disease, many of them in developing countries. In the developed world, however, IPDs mainly affect elderly people and patients with chronic conditions such as diabetes and alcoholism. Although pneumococcal diseases can sometimes be treated successfully with antibiotics, many patients die or develop long-term complications. Consequently, vaccination with “pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine” (PPV) is recommended for everyone over 65 years old and for people between 2 and 65 years old who are at high risk of developing IPD; vaccination with “pneumococcal conjugate vaccine” (PCV) is recommended for children younger than 2 years old who are at high risk of IPDs.
Why Was This Study Done?
S. pneumoniae is not a single organism. There are actually more than 90 S. pneumoniae variants or “serotypes.” These variants are coated with different polysaccharides (complex sugar molecules) that are, in part, responsible for the deleterious effects of S. pneumonia infections. The same molecules also trigger the human immune response that kills the bacteria. Consequently, pneumococcal vaccines contain polysaccharide mixtures isolated from the S. pneumoniae serotypes responsible for most pneumococcal disease. But are these serotypes also responsible for most of the deaths caused by IPD? Until now, the few studies that have investigated the association between S. pneumoniae serotypes and death from IPD have yielded conflicting results. Here, therefore, the researchers undertook a large population-based study to discover whether there is an association between specific pneumococcal serotypes and death following IPD.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers linked data on the serotype of S. pneumoniae isolates sent to the Danish National Neisseria and Streptococcus Reference Center between 1977 and 2007 with clinical data from national medical databases. After allowing for other factors that might affect a person's likelihood of dying from IPD (for example, age and other illnesses), the researchers used multivariate logistic regression analysis (a statistical approach) to look for associations between S. pneumoniae serotypes and death within 30 days of admission to hospital for pneumococcal bacteremia or meningitis. Overall, 18% of the nearly 19,000 people included in this analysis died within 30 days of hospital admission; among the children younger than 5 years included in the study, the death rate was 3%. Among patients 5 years old or older, nine S. pneumoniae serotypes were associated with a more than 3-fold higher death rate (mostly from bacteremia) than serotype 1, the most common serotype isolated during the study. Interestingly, in young children, a different set of serotypes seemed to be associated with death. However, because so few children died from IPD, this result is statistically uncertain. The researchers' results also show that age, gender, having meningitis, having other illnesses, and alcoholism all affected a patient's chances of dying from IPD.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that specific pneumococcal serotypes strongly affect the likelihood that a person aged 5 years or over will die within 30 days of admission to hospital with IPD. Importantly, unlike previous studies, this study was large and comprehensive—the Danish surveillance center covers more than 90% of the Danish population—and the researchers carefully took other factors into account that might have affected a patient's chances of dying from IPD. Thus, these new insights into which pneumococcal serotypes are most deadly could help in the design of new pneumococcal vaccines, at least for people aged 5 years or older. For younger children, however, the results are not as informative and a similar study now needs to be done in developing countries, where more young people die from IPD.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000081.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides information for patients and health professionals on all aspects of pneumococcal disease and pneumococcal vaccination
The US National Foundation for Infectious Diseases has a fact sheet on pneumococcal disease
The UK Health Protection Agency also provides background information on pneumococcal disease
The GAVI's Pneumococcal Vaccines Accelerated Development and Introduction Plan focuses on pneumococcal vaccines for children