Pneumococcus is known as an “opportunistic” infection because it lives in the respiratory tract of people without causing disease, but when the respiratory tract is compromised by an infection such as influenza, the bacteria then invades the lungs (pneumonia), bloodstream (sepsis), or brain and spinal cord (meningitis). Activities like smoking can also compromise the surface of the respiratory tract and allow for pneumococcal infections and subsequent disease.
Because smoking disrupts the lining of the throat and lungs, people who smoke are at increased risk of some infections, including pneumococcus and meningococcus. Both of these vaccine-preventable diseases can cause meningitis. Pneumococcus is also a common cause of pneumonia.
Updated: January 2013
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