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How Do People Get Pneumonia?


Pneumonia is a serious lung infection and can often make some people very ill or become life-threatening. It is most common and most serious when it occurs in babies, people with compromised immune function and elderly people, but anyone can get pneumonia.

Pneumonia can be caused by many things, including bacterial infections, fungal infections, viruses, and parasites. Immediate recognition of symptoms and medical treatment can greatly reduce the risk of more serious complications or death from pneumonia.

Pneumonia affects around 3 million people every year in the United States. Out of these 3 million people, 1 in 5 of them need to be hospitalized for treatment. Almost every one who is treated for pneumonia makes a full recovery. However, there are still 1 in 20 pneumonia sufferers dying from this illness.

The following are the most common causes of pneumonia:

1. Inhaling the Causative Germ

The most common cause of pneumonia is when people inhale either a virus or bacteria that causes pneumonia directly into our lungs. If our immune systems are unable to directly fight off the invaders, then they will grow in the air sacks (alveoli). Immune systems attempt to get rid of the infections by increasing white blood cells. In turn, the lungs fill up with pus and fluid, thus turning into a lung infection.

2. Breathing in Foreign Objects

When pneumonia is caused by a foreign object inhaled into the lungs it is known as aspiration pneumonia. The causes of aspiration pneumonia are; liquids, foods, and saliva or stomach contents. This aspiration may happen if something disturbs your normal gag reflex. Things that disrupt the gag reflex have to do with injury to the nerves in the throat, brain injuries or drug/alcohol use.

3. During a Hospital Stay

If you are hospitalized for 48 hours or longer, you are at a higher risk for a condition known as, “hospital-acquired pneumonia.” This can be transferred from patient to patient, especially in units where patients are kept more closely together. Because this infection is contracted in a hospital environment, the bacteria may be stronger and less susceptible to antibiotics. The use of life-support devices in the ICU also puts patients at higher risk of pneumonia.

4. Living in a Care Facility for a Long Period of Time

If you live in a convalescent hospital, a retirement home or spend a large amount of time in kidney dialysis centers, you may be at higher risk for a type of pneumonia known as “health-care acquired pneumonia.” If you get this type of pneumonia, it may also be less susceptible to antibiotics. These centers are especially prone to pneumonia outbreaks because of the population they serve, the elderly and immunocompromised patients that are naturally at higher risk for pneumonia.

Treatment is Based on the Causative Germs

In order to determine proper medical treatment, doctors will sometimes refer to the name of the germ that caused the infection. In order to do this, they will obtain a sample of what the person coughs up and test it for the type of germ. Then they can determine the proper medications needed. Common types are bacterial, viral and fungal.

Each type of germ needs its own specific treatment: antibiotics for bacterial, rest/fluids for viral pneumonia, and antifungal medications for fungal types.

Symptoms of Pneumonia

The onset of symptoms may be slow or quick depending on how strong a person’s immune system is. Some people may think they have influenza or a simple cold virus that is not clearing up. Here are some common symptoms of Pneumonia:

•Nausea and vomiting
•Weakness and fatigue
•Muscle aches
•Pain with breathing
•Fever and chills
•Shortness of breath
•Productive cough with thickened secretions

*Infants may not have any symptoms, but they may look like they are having trouble breathing and eat less than normal. They may also be irritable and restless with vomiting and/or fever.