Pneumonia is an infection that inflames the air sacs in one or both lungs. The air sacs could be filled with fluid or pus purulent material, causing cough with phlegm or pus, fever, chills, and difficulty in breathing. A variety of organisms, including bacteria, viruses and fungi, can cause pneumonia.
The condition can range in seriousness from mild to life-threatening or leading to premature death, if it is not properly treated. It is most serious for infants and young children, people older than 65, and people with health problems or weakened immune system.
Health experts have said good hygiene, quitting smoking, and keeping immune system strong through exercising and healthy eating are ways to prevent pneumonia. People should also go for regular medical check ups and present condition early.
Dr. Chukwuma Ogunbor, a Consultant Family physician explained that signs and symptoms of pneumonia vary from mild to severe, depending on such factors as the type of germ causing the infection, age and overall health. Mild signs and symptoms are often similar to those of a cold or flu, but they last longer.
He said many germs could cause pneumonia, adding that the most common are bacteria and viruses in the air.
He said: “The body usually prevents these germs from infecting the lungs. But sometimes, these germs can overpower the immune system, even if a person’s health is generally good.
“Pneumonia is classified according to the types of germs that cause it and where you got the infection, which include community-acquired pneumonia, hospital-acquired pneumonia and health care-acquired pneumonia, among others.
“Community-acquired pneumonia is the most common type of pneumonia. It occurs outside of hospitals or other healthcare facilities. It may be caused by bacteria, fungi and viruses, among others.
“The most common cause of bacterial pneumonia is streptococcus pneumoniae. This type of pneumonia can occur on its own or after you’ve had a cold or flu. It may affect one part (lobe) of the lung, a condition called lobar pneumonia.
“Fungi pneumonia is most common in people with chronic health problems or weakened immune systems, and in people who have inhaled large doses of the organisms. The fungi that cause it can be found in soil or bird droppings and vary, depending upon geographic location.
“Viral pneumonia is the most common cause of pneumonia in children younger than five years. Viral pneumonia is usually mild, But in some cases, it can become very serious.”
Ogunbor explained that in the case of hospital-acquired pneumonia, some people catch pneumonia during a hospital stay for another illness. Hospital-acquired pneumonia can be serious because the bacteria causing it may be more resistant to antibiotics and because the people who get it are already sick. People who are on breathing machines ventilators, often used in intensive care units, are at higher risk of this type of pneumonia.
He said healthcare-acquired pneumonia is a bacterial infection that occurs in people who live in long-term care facilities or who receive care in outpatient clinics, including kidney dialysis centres. Like hospital-acquired pneumonia, bacteria that are more resistant to antibiotics can cause healthcare-acquired pneumonia.
Aspiration pneumonia he said, occurs, when the patient inhales food, drink, vomit or saliva into the lungs, and it is more likely if something disturbs the patient’s normal gag reflex, such as a brain injury or swallowing problem, or excessive use of alcohol or drugs.
Ogunbor advised that people should visit hospitals and keep appointments with doctors to prevent pneumonia.
He said: “For instance, vaccines are available to prevent some types of pneumonia and flu. So, people can talk with their doctor about getting these shots. The vaccination guidelines have changed over time, so make sure to review your vaccination status with your doctor, even if you received previous vaccine.
“Parents should make sure their children get vaccinated. Doctors recommend a different pneumonia vaccine for children younger than age two and for children ages two to five years, who are at particular risk of pneumococcal disease. Children who attend childcare centre should also get the vaccine. Doctors also recommend flu shots for children older than six months”.
Professor of Medicine/Honorary Consultant Physician and Nephrologists’ Renal Unit, Obafemi Awolowo University and Obafemi University Teaching Hospital, Fatiu Areogundade, said pneumonia diagnosis always begins with taking medical history and performing a physical examination to look for characteristic signs and symptoms of the infection. In particular, listening to the lungs may reveal areas where sound is diminished, or crackling sounds in affected areas. Some commonly performed diagnostic tests include chest X-ray, which enable the doctor to illustrate whether or not pneumonia is present, but it does not provide information about the organism responsible for the infection.
He said: “Another pneumonia test is microbiology tests to identify the causative organism. Tests may be performed on blood or sputum. Rapid urine tests are available to identify Streptococcus pneumoniae and Legionella pneumophila. Cultures of blood or sputum not only identify the responsible organism, but can also be examined to determine which antibiotics are effective against a particular bacterial strain.
“Most types of bacterial pneumonia are not highly contagious. Even though it is possible to spread bacteria from one person to another, pneumonia typically occurs in people with risk factors or weakened immune defences, when bacteria that are normally present in the nose or throat invade the lung tissue. Any kind of bacterial or viral pneumonia has the potential to be contagious, but Mycoplasma pneumoniae and tuberculosis are two types of bacterial pneumonia that are highly contagious. Breathing in infected droplets that come from patients who are coughing or sneezing can spread the disease to others.”