Visiting your grandchildren could increase risk of deadly condition, study finds

By Staff 6 Min Read

New research has shown that over 60s in daily contact with children are six times more likely to be carrying pneumonia-causing bacteria called Streptococcus pneumoniae

Visiting your grandchildren could increase the risk of pneumonia six-fold, a new study has revealed.

New research has shown that over 60s in daily contact with children are six times more likely to be carrying pneumonia-causing bacteria called Streptococcus pneumoniae. The study, to be presented at this years’ European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases in Barcelona, Spain, suggests contact with pre-school and young school-aged children appears to be the most important factor in the onward transmission of Streptococcus pneumoniae (pneumococcus) to the over 60s.

Pneumococcus is the main bacterial pathogen involved in ear and sinus infection, but is also a major cause of more severe diseases such as pneumonia, health and meningitis. Pneumococcal infections mainly affect children under two and the elderly, and claim almost two million lives worldwide every year.

Over 150,000 hospitalisations from pneumococcal pneumonia occur every year in the USA, and pneumococci is also the most common bacterial cause of childhood pneumonia, especially in children under five. To find out more about the importance of within-household transmission between adults aged 60 and older the team studied 183 adults living in 93 households between 2020 and 2022.

The researchers collected saliva samples and data from questionnaires about social behaviours and health from participants every two weeks over six visits. The analyses found that overall, 4.8 per cent of samples tested positive for pneumococcus, with 15 per cent of individuals colonised on at least one sampling visit.

Older adults who had contact with children daily or every few days were six times more likely to be carriers than those who had no contact with children. Recent contact with children aged under 10 was associated with three times higher risk compared to no contact. For those participants who reported recent contact, infection prevalence was highest in those in contact with younger children.

Those who reported recent contact with five-year-olds were seen to have a prevalence of 14.8 per cent compared with those reporting contact with children aged 10 years and over who had 8.3 per cent prevalence. The researchers say that their findings could suggest a need for vaccination amongst older adults.

Dr Anne Wyllie from the Yale School of Public Health, New Haven, USA, said: “We found that transmission was highest among older adults who had frequent contact with young children. This suggests that the main benefit of adult pneumococcal vaccination is to directly protect older adults who are exposed to children who may still carry and transmit some vaccine-type pneumococcal strains despite successful national childhood vaccination programmes.

“If substantial pneumococcal transmission occurs between adults, then vaccination of older adults could have the additional benefit of reducing transmission and potentially serious disease.”

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