Contrary to the general belief that cold weather and iced drinks have been the major cause of pneumonia, medical experts say people living in dirty, overcrowded and dusty environment are at a high risk of being infected with this commonest killer disease of both the young and the old.
A pulmonologist and consultant at the University of Benin Teaching Hospital, Edo State, Dr. Tada Ehondor, explains that the disease is an inflammation of the lungs and the factors responsible for it include bacteria, viral or other infections.
According to the physician, “the commonest is the Community Acquired Pneumonia, which is related to environment because of the bacteria unknown to people; and also said to be the fastest killer of the elderly.”
Similarly, a South African-based pharmacist, Dr. Chinwe Iwu, says that the disease is caused by a combination of risk factors such as those related to the host (individual affected), the environment and infection.
She lists the major causes to include bacteria, viruses and other micro organisms.
PEOPLE AT HIGH RISK
Iwu explains further that people with weak immune systems, such as the elderly (older than 65 years), young children, chronic smokers, and alcoholics run the high risk of being infected by pneumonia.
She, however, adds that children are the most vulnerable to Pneumonia.
Iwu also identifies those suffering from other medical conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema, asthma, or HIV/AIDS; persons who have recently recovered from a cold or influenza infection; malnourished individuals; persons who have been recently hospitalised in an intensive care unit; and those who have been exposed to certain chemicals or pollutants as very susceptible to the disease.
The pharmacist, however, says, “Pneumonia, in itself, is not contagious, but the germs that cause it often are.
Germs and viruses that cause the flu, common cold, or bacterial infections are contagious and can lead to Pneumonia.
“For instance, when an infected person coughs or sheds the bacteria or viruses in the air, anyone who inhales these pathogenes may catch the infection and develop a respiratory tract infection within a few days.
However, your risk of getting an infection may depend on your immune system and the type of microorganisms involved.”
She highlights possible risk factors to include malnutrition, low birth weight, indoor and outdoor air pollution, overcrowding, zinc deficiency, smoking, concomitant diseases such as diarrhea, heart disease, asthma, rainfall, cold weather and lack of vitamin A.
A United States pathologist, Dr. Melissa Stoppler, explains that the disease can spread to the bloodstream, causing sepsis (a serious condition that can result in lowering of blood pressure and failure of oxygen to reach the tissues of the body).
Another complication is the accumulation of fluid in the space between the lung tissue and the chest wall lining, known as a pleural effusion.
The organisms responsible for the pneumonia may infect the fluid in a pleural effusion, known as an empyema. Pneumonia can also result in the formation of an abscess (collection of pus) within the lungs or airways.
Both experts say that most people infected by pneumonia first come down with cold and flu symptoms and then develop a high fever, chills, and cough with sputum.
Other symptoms are shortness of breath, chest pain that usually worsens when taking a deep breath (pleuritic pain), fast heartbeat, fatigue and feeling very weak, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, sweating, muscle pain, confusion or delirium and purplish skin color (cyanosis) from poorly oxygenated blood.
Iwu, however, further says that pneumonia can lead to terminal diseases, if not properly managed. Such terminal diseases, she says, include asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, malignancy and HIV infection.
Stoppler also says that the duration of symptoms varies, according to the type of pneumonia and the underlying health status of the individual.
In previously healthy people, pneumonia can be a mild illness that resolves within two to three weeks. In older adults and in those with chronic diseases or other health problems, recovery may take six to eight weeks or longer.
Giving tips on how pneumonia can be prevented, the medical experts say quitting smoking, practising good hand-washing and avoiding contact with people who have cold, flu or other infections are part of the ways of combating an infection with the disease.
They also advise that vaccination against the disease, personal hygiene, avoiding overcrowded environment and antibiotic medications are the treatment of choice for pneumonia caused by bacterial and fungal infections.
The World Health Organization recently disclosed that pneumonia alone claimed the lives of approximately 177,000 children yearly in five years in Nigeria, with over 800,000 children under five years of age dying from pneumococcal diseases, globally