US Pharm. 2014;39(4):13-14.
Serious Lung Infection
Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs usually caused by a
bacterium or virus. These germs can be breathed into the lungs when
spread through the air. They can also spread to the lungs in a person
with an upper respiratory tract infection. The wet cough of pneumonia
results from inflammation of the lung tissue, which produces mucus.
Pneumonia can be mild or serious, depending on the cause
and a person’s ability to fight the infection. Most people with
pneumonia can be treated at home with rest, oral fluids, and prescribed
drugs. More serious cases of pneumonia are best treated in a hospital,
where the patient can receive IV medications and fluids.
Vaccines Are Available to Prevent Bacterial Pneumonia
Pneumonia is very common in the United States, affecting
several million people annually. About 1 million people are hospitalized
and 50,000 die each year. Those most likely to develop pneumonia are
under age 5 years or over age 65 years. Smokers and people with lung
disease, heart disease, diabetes, or poor immunity also have a higher
risk of pneumonia.
People can catch pneumonia in their community or in a
healthcare facility such as a hospital or nursing home. Pneumonias can
also be classified by the cause of the infection—either bacterial (most
commonly Streptococcus pneumoniae) or viral (usually influenza or the respiratory syncytial virus).
Symptoms and Diagnosis
The symptoms of pneumonia include a cough, often with
thick mucus, chest pain, fever, chills, exhaustion, and shortness of
breath. Not every patient will have all of these symptoms. Elderly
people may be confused and disoriented. Babies may be irritable and
vomit. Anyone with symptoms of pneumonia after an upper respiratory
infection (a cold, sinus infection, or the flu) should see a doctor, who
can listen to the lungs with a stethoscope, take a chest x-ray, and
order a blood test to look for infection. Other tests, such as a CT scan
of the chest or a sputum culture, may be needed to confirm the type of
pneumonia in more serious cases.
The treatment for pneumonia depends on the cause and the
condition of the patient. Most people who develop pneumonia can be
treated at home, but those with severe symptoms or who are at high risk
should be treated in a hospital for several days until their condition
is stable. In the hospital, a patient can receive medicines and fluids
through an IV, and oxygen therapy is available as well.
If pneumonia is caused by a virus, antibiotics will not
help. A doctor can prescribe an antiviral medicine, if appropriate, to
speed up recovery. Rest and plenty of fluids are important as well. It
may take 2 or 3 weeks for a person with viral pneumonia to feel better,
and a month or longer to recover completely.
If pneumonia is caused by bacteria, an antibiotic will be
prescribed along with rest and plenty of fluids. Although symptoms
should improve within a few days, it is important to finish the entire
course of antibiotic to prevent the infection from returning. Full
recovery from bacterial pneumonia can take several weeks to a month or
Prevention With Vaccines
Prevention begins with measures to stop the spread of
germs that cause pneumonia. This includes frequent hand washing and
covering coughs and sneezes.
There are two pneumococcal pneumonia vaccines (Prevnar, Pneumovax) available to prevent pneumonia from S pneumoniae
bacteria. Prevnar is recommended for all children younger than 5 years
and for adults with certain risk factors. Pneumovax is approved for
people over age 50 years and children 2 years or older at increased risk
for pneumococcal disease. The Haemophilus influenzae type B
(Hib) vaccine is given to children under age 5 years to prevent
meningitis and pneumonia. There is no vaccine to prevent viral
pneumonia, but the annual flu vaccine can help by preventing the spread
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