University of Oulu

Catching the pneumococcus : studies focusing on carriage, epidemiology and microbiological methods

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Author: Lankinen, Kari S.1,2
Organizations: 1National Public Health Institute, Department of Microbiology
2University of Oulu, Faculty of Medicine, Department of Medical Microbiology
Format: ebook
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 1 MB)
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Language: English
Published: 2003
Publish Date: 2003-06-28
Thesis type: Doctoral Dissertation
Defence Note: Academic Dissertation to be presented with the assent of the Faculty of Medicine, University of Oulu, for public discussion in the Great Auditorium of the Faculty of Medicine, on June 28th, 2003, at 12 noon.
Reviewer: Docent Elja Herva
Professor Matti Korppi


The purpose of this study was to develop sensitive and specific laboratory diagnostic methods for the demonstration of pneumococcal surface antigens or pneumococcus-specific antibodies in clinical samples. The work took account of epidemiological aspects of both pneumococcal disease and nasopharyngeal carriage of pneumococcus.

We first compared the sensitivity of pneumococcal culture and antigen detection methods in nasopharyngeal samples in a developing country setting and then investigated the possibility of improving the sensitivity of the antigen detection by introducing an enrichment step in the procedure. — Further investigations were designed to determine the validity of pneumolysin-specific immune complex bound antibody assay as a tool for diagnosing pneumococcal ALRI in a developing country setting. Finally, we developed an enzyme immunoassay for the detection of pneumococcal capsular polysaccharide antigens, using type-specific antibodies produced in-house in rabbits through immunisation with an in-house-produced pneumococcal whole cell vaccine. The method was tested in nasopharyngeal and middle ear fluid samples.

The first results indicated that antigen detection might be more sensitive than culture in demonstrating pneumococci in URT, particularly in children with prior antimicrobial therapy. Antigen detection is a feasible method for studies on pneumococci in developing countries. For type-specific demonstration of S. pneumoniae, detection of pneumococcal antigen after an enrichment step proved a sensitive method that can be applied for epidemiologic study purposes, e.g., in vaccine trials, in areas without ready access to a good microbiology laboratory.

Determination of IC-bound pneumolysin IgG antibodies appears to be a useful method for species-specific diagnosis of pneumococcal infections. The results indicating pneumococcal aetiology in ALRI patients in this study compare well with the best results obtained by the use of lung aspirates. Increasing the number of serial samples improves the sensitivity of the assay, but even two samples provide more positive findings than other methods currently in routine use. Criteria of positivity need to be confirmed in subsequent larger studies with both healthy controls and patients with confirmed pneumococcal disease. It is also important to control the findings in patients with pneumonia of non-pneumococcal origin.

The novel enzyme immunoassay was shown to work well with enrichment culture samples, with an almost 100% sensitivity compared with the culture. Middle ear fluid samples were too diluted for the enzyme immunoassay method used, and only 74% sensitivity compared with culture was achieved. Provided that adequate samples can be obtained, the method will be a useful complement to the current laboratory methods used to diagnose pneumococcal disease.

With the existence of a broad spectrum of microbiological and immunological methods, it is imperative to seek international consensus for standard methods to demonstrate pneumococcus. Otherwise it is very difficult to compare results from different clinical studies. A WHO Working Group recently proposed a standard method for detecting upper respiratory carriage of pneumococcus, but a lot of work remains to be done in other areas of research on pneumococcal infections.

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Series: Acta Universitatis Ouluensis. D, Medica
ISSN-E: 1796-2234
ISBN: 951-42-7063-0
ISBN Print: 951-42-7062-2
Issue: 736
Copyright information: © University of Oulu, 2003. This publication is copyrighted. You may download, display and print it for your own personal use. Commercial use is prohibited.