Background: Nasopharyngeal carriage of pneumococci is prevalent among children in developing countries but little is known about the relationship of nasopharyngeal carriage to invasive disease or about the way in which pneumococci spread within households.
Objectives: To determine the prevalence of nasopharyngeal carriage in healthy and sick Gambian children and to investigate transmission within households.
Methods: Nasopharyngeal swabs were obtained by the per nasal route and cultured for pneumococci on selective media. Pneumococci were serotyped with the use of latex particles coated with type-specific antisera.
Results: Pneumococci were isolated from the nasopharynx of 73 (90.1%) of 81 children with invasive pneumococcal disease, 86 (76.1%) of 113 healthy, age-matched control children and 911 (85.1%) of 1071 sick children. Pneumococci belonging to serotypes 1, 14 and 12 were isolated significantly more frequently from cases than from matched controls. In 43 (76.8%) of 56 children with invasive disease, pneumococci isolated from the nasopharynx and from the blood or other sterile site belonged to the same serotype. Pneumococci of the same serotype as the bacterium responsible for invasive disease in a child were obtained from 72 (8.5%) of 843 family members, most frequently from young siblings of the case patients.
Conclusion: Nasopharyngeal carriage of pneumococci is more prevalent among young Gambian children than among adults and invasive infections are probably acquired more frequently from siblings than from parents. However, further studies are needed to confirm this hypothesis with more discriminating markers than polysaccharide serotyping.