5 Facts About the Streptococcus Pneumoniae Bacteria

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Learn basic facts about the bacteria that causes bacterial meningitis in children.

Streptococcus pneumoniae is a bacterium that causes infection mostly in small children. The bacteria are gram-positive cocci normally present in pairs. The bacteria is normally found in the respiratory tract of humans, but conditions such as trauma or a compromised immune system give the bacteria the opportunity to cause infection. It’s responsible for pneumonia, ear infections, and bacterial meningitis, which is a factor in high rates of mortality in infants.

History and Discovery

The bacterium was first discovered by Louis Pasteur in 1881. It was studied and named because of its role in causing pneumonia. It also played a role in the discovery of genetic transformation of antibiotic resistant genes. Today, Streptococcus is studied to help find a suitable vaccine against infection.

Virulence Factors

Virulence factors are cellular components that give bacteria its ability to cause disease. Streptococcus pneumoniae has virulence factors in its cell walls that attach to tissue in the body and allow the bacteria to survive against immune responses. The bacteria have a cell wall that allows it to adhere to human tissue, so it won’t get dislodged by air or fluids flowing through the respiratory tract.

Streptococcus Role in Disease

Streptococcus pneumoniae is responsible for many meningitis reports. The bacteria enter the inner ear canal causing otitis media. It also invades respiratory tissue of patients with compromised immune systems, causing respiratory breathing complications and lung tissue destruction. If left untreated, Streptococcus enters the cerebral spinal fluid and causes meningitis. Once Streptococcus enters the cerebral spinal fluid, it destroys brain cells and leads to death. This type of meningitis is common in newborn infants.


Streptococcus pneumoniae is used in the laboratories to study bacteria pathology. The bacteria are used to discover vaccinations for meningitis and pneumonia, which is most common in underdeveloped countries. Streptococcus pneumoniae have enzymes that compete and destroy other bacteria that invade its area of infection. Streptococcus releases bactericidal agents that destroy other organism that compete for host resources. This type of adversarial attack against other organisms is the focus of biotechnology research.

Antibiotic Resistance

Because of the increase in use of antibiotics, Streptococcus has developed resistance to penicillin medication. The resistance of penicillin increases the mortality risk of infection, so broad spectrum antibiotics are needed for treating diseases caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae.

These facts are what make Streptococcus a dangerous but respected organism. The bacterium is continuously studied to protect against bioterrorism agents and limit meningitis infections of small infants. As the increase of antibiotic resistance continues, scientists continue to monitor the bacteria for any future changes that threaten human survival.