Dynamics of Pneumococcal Carriage in Adults: A New Look at an Old Paradigm

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Background: Limited information is available on pneumococcal colonization among adults. We studied pneumococcal carriage dynamics in healthy adults using high-sensitivity approaches. Methods: Eighty-seven adults (25-50 years old) were followed for 6 months in Portugal. Nasopharyngeal, oropharyngeal, and saliva samples were obtained monthly; pneumococcal carriers were also sampled weekly. Carriage was investigated by quantitative polymerase chain reaction (targeting lytA and piaB) and culture. Positive samples were serotyped. Results: Approximately 20% of the adults were intermittent carriers; 10% were persistent carriers (>4 months). Pneumococcal acquisition and clearance rates were 16.5 (95% confidence interval [CI], 11.2-24.2) and 95.9 (95% CI, 62.3-145.0) cases/1000 person-weeks, respectively. Living with children increased pneumococcal acquisition (hazard ratio, 9.7 [95% CI, 2.6-20.5]; P < .001). Median duration of carriage was 7 weeks and did not depend on regular contact with children. Conclusions: The pneumococcal carrier state in healthy adults is more dynamic than generally assumed: Acquisition is frequent and duration of carriage is often long. This suggests that some adults may act as reservoirs of pneumococci and hence, depending on the social structure of a community, the magnitude of herd effects potentially attainable through children vaccination may vary. These findings are important when designing strategies to prevent pneumococcal disease in adults.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1590-1600
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Infectious Diseases
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2021


  • adults
  • carriage dynamics
  • colonization
  • quantitative polymerase chain reaction
  • risk factors
  • Streptococcus pneumoniae


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