The incidence of invasive infection due to Streptococcus pneumoniae is 6.9 infections per 100 patient-years among children with sickle cell anemia (SS genotype) who are less than 5 years of age; this rate is 30- 100 times that which would be expected in a healthy population of this age. Splenic dysfunction is the major contributor to the increased risk. Postulated abnormalities of immunologic defense mechanisms, including synthesis of polyclonal IgG and IgM, the alternative complement pathway, opsonic activity, and T and B cell interaction, may also enhance risk. Preceding or concomitant viral infection is suspected of predisposing to pneumococcal infection, but no definitive data are available. The most prevalent pneumococcal serotypes causing disease in this setting include types 6, 14, 18, 19, and 23; these same serotypes are most frequently involved in "vaccine failure." Current evidence demonstrates only modest protective efficacy for contemporary pneumococcal vaccines in young patients with sickle cell anemia; thus alternative vaccines are required. Convincing evidence for a protective effect of antibiotic prophylaxis has been obtained in limited time trials. However, presently used prophylactic regimens pose problems related to compliance and provide imperfect protection; moreover, their optimal duration remains unknown.
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