Pneumonia is one of fall and winter's most prevalent and, arguably, most fatal diseases. In 2019 alone, 2.5 million people, 672,000 of whom were children, died due to pneumonia-related complications. 1,273,714 people worldwide have reportedly died due to infections secondary to COVID-19 since December 2019, and these statistics are expected to be much higher by 2021. In Turkey alone, 12,000 people die from pneumonia each year.
Pneumonia is a respiratory infection that causes the air sacs (alveoli) inside of our lungs to become inflamed. These infected air sacs can fill up with fluid or pus, causing immense pain and breathing difficulties.
The most characteristic symptoms of pneumonia are a high fever and shortness of breath, very similar to COVID-19. Most severe COVID-19 cases lead to pneumonia, causing lasting damage to the lungs.
Typical pneumonia causes chills, shivering and shortness of breath, accompanied by a fever of 39-40 degrees Celsius (102-104 F). Increased heart rate, bruising, chest pain, dry cough, yellow-green sputum and confusion, especially among the elderly, are its most common symptoms. Your white blood cell count and c-reactive protein levels, which are inflammation markers, will also likely be elevated in your blood tests if you have pneumonia.
Are there ways to prevent pneumonia?
To fight off diseases like pneumonia, your body's immune system and lungs' germ protection mechanisms must be working at their optimal rate.
Smoking paralyzes and can even kill the carpet-like tiny hairs on our lungs called cilia, which are responsible for sweeping out mucus and dirt so our lungs stay clear. Therefore, smoking stops our lungs from getting rid of millions of microbes we breathe in every day, making us more susceptible to infection.
Likewise, consuming alcohol, air pollution, underlying diseases such as diabetes, kidney failure or receiving cortisone treatment are also factors that disrupt our lungs' defense mechanism.
There are two types of vaccines that prevent pneumonia. One is effective for life, while the other must be repeated annually. Though most western countries recommend these vaccines for those over the age of 65, in Turkey this age limit is reduced to 55 as lung diseases are more prevalent. Those with certain medical conditions are also highly recommended to get vaccinated against pneumonia every year.
On the occasion of World Pneumonia Day, here are little-known facts about pneumonia:
– Infection-related pneumonia may be caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi or tuberculosis microbes. All of them have different treatments. Antibiotics are only effective against bacterial pneumonia. The drugs and their duration of use are different for fungus and tuberculosis-related pneumonia.
– SARS-CoV-2, aka the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, is a virus akin to influenza and causes viral pneumonia. While it is possible to find drugs that reduce the severity of the flu, scientists are still trying to find a good cure for COVID-19.
– Unlike the flu, COVID-19 causes pneumonia in the lungs more often. This type of pneumonia gives lungs the look of frosted glass on x-rays.
– There are also cases of atypical pneumonia. Called "legionella pneumonia" (legionnaires disease) in scientific terms, this type of pneumonia can spread via airborne water droplets through air conditioner units and whirlpool spas, and progresses very rapidly if the correct antibiotic treatment is not given.
– The most important cause of death in AIDS patients is a type of pneumonia that develops due to impaired immunity, and its treatment differs from the usual treatment for pneumonia.