When it comes to diseases, viruses, and infections, there seems to be no shortage of them for us to be worried about contracting. However, while most people know about pneumonia, it seems as though not enough people are worried about it. And when you consider how prevalent and how deadly it is, it really makes you wonder why.
According to the American Lung Associations, pneumonia is more common than you think. It causes more than a million hospitalizations and more than 50,000 deaths each year. Pneumonia is an infection in one or both of your lungs, causing inflammation and fluid build-up. It may cause problems with oxygen exchange. While some people are at higher risk than others, anyone can get pneumonia. Symptoms of pneumonia include fever, wheezing, cough, chills, rapid breathing, chest pains, loss of appetite and malaise, or a general feeling of weakness or ill health.
As if the symptoms weren’t bad enough, a person can get pneumonia from more than 30 different causes. Many germs, such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi can cause pneumonia. Understanding the cause of pneumonia is important because pneumonia treatment depends on its cause. And it is through a new potential treatment that we are seeing some great promise.
The current pneumonia landscape sees pathogens that are increasingly becoming resistant to treatment and the choice of antibiotics to treat infections is limited. It is believed that by stimulating the hormone, hepcidin, that is responsible for controlling iron metabolism, may help fight off a severe form of bacterial pneumonia, by preventing the bacteria from spreading throughout the body. This discovery by a team of researchers from the University of Virginia School of Medicine could open the door to helping vulnerable patients.
According to Dr. Meenakshy Varier bacteria needs iron in the blood to grow and survive and the hormone that is produced in the liver limits the spread of the bacteria by hiding the iron in the blood. Bacteria are growing increasingly resistant to antibiotics and the treatment options are diminishing.
Inducing the production of hepcidin in patients who do not produce it well, such as people with iron overload or liver disease, may help their bodies effectively tackle the bacteria by starving it to death. That finding could be lifesaving for these vulnerable patients.
“The rate at which these organisms become resistant to antibiotics is far faster than the rate at which we come up with new antibiotics. It’s a race, and they’re winning it,” said researcher Borna Mehrad, MBBS, of UVA’s Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine. “Increasingly, the choice of antibiotics to treat these infections is more and more limited, and there are occasions where there just isn’t an antibiotic to treat with, which is a very scary and dangerous situation.”
This is most certainly great news when it comes to finding a suitable treatment for one of the deadliest infections on the planet.