Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs which affects
millions of people globally each year. In the USA alone,
about 4 million people develop pneumonia annually and
40,000 to 70,000 of them die. In 1997, pneumonia and
influenza combined ranked as the sixth leading cause of
What is Pneumonia?
Pneumonia is a serious
infection or inflammation of the lungs that can be
caused by various types of microbes, including bacteria,
viruses, fungi, and parasites. Bacteria are the most
common cause of pneumonia in adults over 30 years of age
and the bacteria Streptococcus pneumoniae is the most
common cause of bacterial pneumonia. When someone
catches pneumonia, the infection causes the lungs to
become inflamed and the air sacs in the lungs fill with
pus and other liquid. Oxygen has trouble reaching the
blood. If there is too little oxygen in the blood, the
body cells cannot work properly. When the body defences
are weakened in some way, by illness, old age,
malnutrition, smoking, asthma, general debility or
impaired immunity, the bacteria can multiply and cause
serious damage. The infection quickly spreads through
the bloodstream and the whole body is invaded.
Pneumonia often develops after an
upper respiratory tract infection (an infection of the
nose and throat). When this happens, symptoms of
pneumonia may occur two or three days after the start of
a cold or sore throat.
The onset of bacterial
pneumonia can vary from gradual to sudden. In the most
severe cases, the patient may have a high temperature,
shaking chills, chattering teeth, severe chest pain, and
a cough that produces rust-coloured or greenish
The patient sweats profusely, and
breathing and pulse rate increase rapidly. Lips and
nailbeds may have a bluish colour due to a lack of
oxygen in the blood.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Diagnosis is based
on the characteristic symptoms combined with a chest
x-ray. In the young and healthy, early treatment with
the correct antibiotics can cure bacterial pneumonia.
There is not yet a general treatment for viral
pneumonia, although antiviral drugs are used for certain
The drugs used to fight pneumonia are
determined by the germ causing the pneumonia and the
judgement of the doctor. After a patient's temperature
returns to normal, medication must be continued
according to the doctor's instructions, otherwise the
pneumonia may recur. Relapses can be far more serious
than the first attack.
patients are often prescribed supportive treatment:
proper diet, bed-rest and oxygen to increase oxygen
levels in the blood when needed. In some patients,
medication to ease chest pain and to provide relief from
violent cough may be necessary.