November 26, 2009 in Nation/World

Pneumococcal infections on rise

CDC reports spike in disease linked to swine flu
Thomas H. Maugh Ii Los Angeles Times

Federal officials said Wednesday that they have noticed “a worrisome spike in serious pneumococcal disease” linked to infections with pandemic H1N1 influenza.

Health authorities normally see an increase in such infections associated with seasonal flu, but this year the rate is substantially higher than normal and striking younger people rather than the elderly, according to Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

And for the second week in a row, the American College Health Association has reported a drop in influenzalike illnesses on college campuses, a 37 percent decrease for the week ending Nov. 20, following a 27 percent decrease the preceding week. Those data suggest that the first wave of swine flu has passed its peak.

The pneumococcal infections typically occur when an influenza infection weakens the lining of the lungs, allowing bacteria that normally reside in the nose and throat to make their way down to the lungs, where they cause severe disease, inflaming the lungs and often spreading through the blood to other organs.

Most of the pneumococcal infections can be prevented with a vaccine called Pneumovax that is recommended for people with medical conditions that leave them at high risk, but only about a quarter of such people have received an immunization.

The problem with pneumococcal infections is showing up in the CDC’s Active Bacterial Core surveillance program, which monitors infections at 10 sites. In the Denver metropolitan area, there are typically about 20 such infections in October. This year, there were 58, most of them among people under age 60.

Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email