What is Pneumonia?
Anyone can get pneumonia. It's commonly a complication of a respiratory infection, especially the flu—but there are more than 30 different causes of the illness. Older adults, children and people with chronic disease, including COPD and asthma, are at high risk for pneumonia. Pneumonia is a common and very serious disease. The flu is often the cause of pneumonia.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) ranks pneumonia combined with the flu as the 8th leading cause of death in the U.S. every year. Children and people over 65 are considered high-risk cases because their bodies are more susceptible to infection. Other high-risk groups include pregnant women and people who have weakened immune systems.
Here are some of the most important facts about pneumonia:
What causes Pneumonia?
Pneumonia is caused by a number of infectious agents, including viruses, bacteria and fungi. The most common are:
- Streptococcus pneumoniae – the most common cause of bacterial pneumonia in children
- Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) – the second most common cause of bacterial pneumonia
- Respiratory syncytial virus is the most common viral cause of pneumonia
- In infants infected with HIV, Pneumocystis jiroveci is one of the most common causes of pneumonia, responsible for at least one quarter of all pneumonia deaths in HIV-infected infants
How Pneumonia Spread?
Pneumonia can be spread in a number of ways. The viruses and bacteria that are commonly found in a child's nose or throat, can infect the lungs if they are inhaled. They may also spread via air-borne droplets from a cough or sneeze. In addition, pneumonia may spread through blood, especially during and shortly after birth. More research needs to be done on the different pathogens causing pneumonia and the ways they are transmitted, as this is of critical importance for treatment and prevention.
How can you Treat Pneumonia
Pneumonia should be treated with antibiotics. The antibiotic of choice is amoxicillin dispersable tablets. Most cases of pneumonia require oral antibiotics, which are often prescribed at a health centre. These cases can also be diagnosed and treated with inexpensive oral antibiotics at the community level by trained community health workers. Hospitalization is recommended only for severe cases of pneumonia.
Visit your doctor if you notice the following symptoms:
- No appetite
- Coughing up bloody or yellow phlegm
How can you Prevent Pneumonia
Preventing pneumonia in children is an essential component of a strategy to reduce child mortality. Immunization against Hib, pneumococcus, measles and whooping cough (pertussis) is the most effective way to prevent pneumonia. Adequate nutrition is key to improving children's natural defences, starting with exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life. In addition to being effective in preventing pneumonia, it also helps to reduce the length of the illness if a child does become ill.
Pneumonia is more common than you think. It causes more than a million hospitalizations and more than 50,000 deaths each year. It may cause many health problems. See your doctor if you think you have developed pneumonia because the best way to prevent pneumonia is to practice good hygiene and to get the seasonal flu shot every year.