Pneumonia is an inflammation of the lung, most commonly caused by infection, which causes the microscopic air sacs to fill up with fluid impairing the supply of oxygen to the body’s tissues.
Symptoms include a cough, fever, shortness of breath, chills and sweating, sometimes sharp chest pain, and possible confusion. At its most severe, infection can spread to the blood and cause septicaemia poisoning, or kidney failure. In some cases, pneumonia can result in death because the body is starved of oxygen.
Long-term consequences include damage to the air passages in the lungs, which leaves people more prone to subsequent chest infections, as well as a lack of energy and depression.
Who is at risk?
While pneumonia can affect anyone at any age, primarily the very young and the elderly are affected. In addition, people are at higher risk of pneumonia if they smoke, drink too much, have underlying lung conditions like chronic lung disease or asthma, renal and liver disease, a neurological disease such as a previous stroke, diabetes, or are HIV positive.
Bacteria and viruses cause most cases, fungi much less frequently and then usually in people with underlying conditions. The peak period for the illness is winter but it can occur at any time of year.
Are there effective treatments?
Depending on the causal agent, the treatment for pneumonia is antibiotics and oxygen, and sometimes antiviral drugs.
Can it be prevented?
Maintaining high standards of hygiene will help reduce the chances of infection.
As well as preventing flu, the flu vaccine will protect against influenza pneumonia, and decreases the chance of getting a secondary bacterial pneumonia.
Pneumococcal vaccines can protect against the most common bacterial form of pneumonia caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae. Pneumococcal vaccination is often recommended for infants and young children as part of their routine immunisation as well as older adults and those at higher risk.
Interesting fact: Estimates indicate that more than one million children’s lives can be saved annually with widespread use of vaccines and improved access to antibiotics.
Watch: Pneumonia is the world’s leading killer of children under five