Background: The pneumococcus is a frequent cause of pneumonia and other serious infections among young children in developing countries. Defining the pattern of pneumococcal infection in these countries is important so that, with the advent of pneumococcal conjugate vaccines, rational vaccination policies can be developed.
Methods: Children younger than 5 years of age who attended clinics in a rural area of The Gambia, West Africa, were screened by assistants during a 2-year period. Children with predefined features suggestive of a diagnosis of pneumonia, meningitis or septicemia were referred to the Medical Research Council Field Station at Basse for investigation.
Results: Of 2898 children investigated 103 cases of invasive pneumococcal disease (70 definite and 33 probable) were identified, suggesting that the incidence of this infection in the study community is at least 554/100,000/year in children younger than 1 year of age and 240/100,000/year in those younger than 5 years, rates many times higher than those found in industrialized societies. The mean age of presentation was 15 months; more boys than girls were affected. Cases of pneumonia were encountered 8 times more frequently than those of meningitis. Antibiotic resistance was rarely found and cases of pneumonia, but not meningitis, responded well to treatment. Case-fatality rates in children with pneumonia and meningitis were 1 and 55%, respectively. The most prevalent pneumococcal serotypes were types 6, 14, 19, 1 and 5.
Conclusion: About 60% of invasive pneumococcal infection in children in this community could potentially be prevented by a nine-valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (types 1, 4, 5, 6B, 9, 14, 18, 19F and 23) given at the ages of 2, 3 and 4 months.