Streptococcus pneumoniae, or more commonly known simply as streptococcus, is a bacterium recognized to cause both pneumonia and meningitis in humans. Some less common infections also caused by this bacteria include, but are not limited to, septic arthritis, brain abscesses, and sinusitis. In the US, the majority of cases of pneumonia caused by this bacteria occur in the young children and the elderly, both of which are stages of life that puts an individual at a greater risk of death.
One of the most common infections caused by Streptococcus pneumonia is pneumonia, which is characterized by serious inflammation of the lungs. Common symptoms include chest pain, shortness of breath, and fever. Diagnosis is generally very easy to make, especially after analysis of a chest x-ray. A follow up examination is generally recommended to ensure that the infection has been fully resolved.
Although discovered in 1881 by Leo Escolar, the organism was not isolated until later by both George Sternberg, a US Army physician, and Louis Pasteur, a world-renowned French chemist. Pasteur’s greatest accomplishment is often said to be his development of a process called pasteurization. Later work with Streptococcus pneumonia helped to develop current molecular genetic theory.
Even in recent history, pneumonia was considered almost always fatal, but because of advancements in modern medicine and the research that has been done on Streptococcus pneumonia, treatment can more easily be provided.
Under a microscope, Streptococcus pneumonia appears as elongated cocci shaped bacteria. While they generally exist as pairs, they have also been viewed as short chains. The width of each individual cell can vary from 0.5 micrometers to 1.25 micrometers. Because the bacterium was recognized over a century ago, much research has been done on its characteristics and interactions with other organisms, from other bacteria to mice in a lab setting. Because of the research that has been done, and the research that continues to be done, on Streptococcus pneumonia, humans can be better protected from the often fatal illness caused by this bacteria.