Deeper into Jeopardy! XLI: Vaccines – $2000

Jeopardy! category: VACCINES (30-3-2015)

$2000 clue: Pfizer’s Prevnar 13 helps protect against several bacterial illnesses including this 12-letter type of pneumonia

Correct response

The gist: Another vicious disease, this one kills, according to the World Health Organization, more than a million and a half people a year, most of them children. Pneumococcal infections account for a sizeable chunk of all cases of pneumonia, but can also cause other maladies including otitis media and meningitis. It’s caused by one of the Streptococcus bacteria, S. pneumoniae, related to the ones that cause strep throat, some cases of pink eye, and many others. Despite its danger, though, the bacteria is actually found in the nasal cavity and pharynx of 5-10% of healthy adults and about twice that proportion of healthy children without causing any trouble. But if it manages to make its way elsewhere in the body, for example by colonizing the sinuses and finagling itself into the bloodstream, it can cause harmful infections. Risk factors for developing pneumococcal infections include smoking, compromised immune systems (for example, in HIV-positive individuals), injected drug use, and hepatitis C. It is also a complication of influenza, as the damages airways associated with influenza can make it easier for the bacteria to cause infections.

A pneumococcal vaccine was first licensed in the U.S. in 1977, and was replaced in 1983 with a version that protected against more strains. Unfortunately, that vaccine saw its best responses in adults and was ineffective in children under two, who are most vulnerable to the disease. Prevnar 13 (its trade name; generically it goes by PCV) began as Prevnar 7 in 2000, designed for children, and it grew by six in 2010 to PCV13. According to the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, since it was included on the childhood vaccine schedule in 2000, pneumococcal disease in U.S. children has dropped by almost 80%.

Pretty little digitally-stained dots of S. pneumoniae

The clue: Be careful of those “x-letter” clues. You might look a little silly counting letters on your fingers after buzzing in, but you’ll avoid responses like contestant Michael’s “pneumonococcal” – that seemingly innocuous syllable cost him $2000. Aside from that, unless you’re familiar with the pharmaceuticals involved (which is not inconceivable, Jeopardy! gets plenty of medical types), the clue is basically word association on pneumonia.

In Jeopardy!: Congratulations, “pneumococcal,” this is your very first Jeopardy! clue! Enjoy your few seconds in the spotlight, and then please stop infecting people. Pneumonia is much more common.

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