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In 1992 drug-resistant Streptococcus pneumoniae was cultured with increasing frequency from aspirates of middle ear fluid from children with acute otitis media in a rural Kentucky community. To determine the prevalence of carriage of drug-resistant S. pneumoniae in the community, we obtained nasopharyngeal swabs from 158 (70%) of 227 children attending a child day-care center and from 82 children attending the county health center. S. pneumoniae was isolated from 126 children. Among 123 isolates tested 65 (53%) were penicillin-resistant, including 41 (33%) strains that were highly resistant; 61(50%) were multidrug-resistant. Serotypes 19F, 6B, 23F and 6A comprised 89% of the penicillin-resistant isolates. Detection of a variety of sero-types and drug resistance patterns among nasopharyngeal isolates of S. pneumoniae suggests that multidrug-resistant pneumococcal strains are endemic in this community. Surveillance for drug-resistant pneumococci with the use of respiratory secretions obtained by nasopharyngeal swab may provide useful information on the prevalence of drug-resistant strains causing invasive disease and otitis media. Such information could be used to guide empiric therapy of pneumococcal infections.