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Pneumonia is still with us

                                        December 2010  

Pneumonia is still with us

pneumoniaPneumonia is a serious problem that can lead to death if left untreated – at the start of the last century it had overtaken tuberculosis as the number one leading cause of death in this country.

Hippocrates (c 400 BC) was one of the first to identify the problem and describe its symptoms but it wasn’t until around the 1880s that the two common bacterial causes (streptococcus pneumonia and Klebsiella pneumonia) were identified.

The development of penicillin and general antibiotics in the mid 20th century had enormous affect on pneumonia and mortality dropped dramatically. Since then vaccinations have been developed and treatment has continued to improve.

However, in the UK pneumonia still affects around 10 in every 1,000 adults, especially in autumn and winter months. It can affect people of any age but obviously those with a weakened immune system due to other illnesses are more susceptible. There are also different types of pneumonia and some are more severe than others.

Pneumonia is basically when lung tissue becomes inflamed, usually as the result of an infection. This infection can be caused by many different micro-organisms including viruses, bacteria and parasites but by far the majority of pneumonia cases are caused by the bacteria streptococcus pneumonia.

This infection causes the air sacs in the lungs and the smaller bronchial tubes to become inflamed and fill with fluid. The body then directs special white blood cells to move to the lungs to fight off the infection and this makes it hard for the lungs to operate properly and to transfer oxygen from the air into the bloodstream.

Some people carry the bacteria without developing problems, but for many early symptoms can include fever, pains in the chest and coughing, usually a dry cough at first but then you can start to cough up phlegm. Breathing can become fast and shallow, and it can hurt to breathe in deeply or to cough.

A doctor needs to be consulted and he or she will examine your chest. Sometimes an x-ray is taken to check the condition of the lungs.

It is important pneumonia is treated and the main treatment today is with antibiotics which are very effective and usually help to bring about a complete recovery. Rest is important, and you will probably be advised to drink quite a lot of liquid and possibly take pain killers.

Today, only one in ten people who develop pneumonia needs to be admitted to hospital.

While it is a very treatable disease, today people do still die of pneumonia and it needs to be taken seriously. If you are over 65, your doctor may recommend a vaccination against pneumonia. If you feel you may be at risk this winter, do talk to your doctor who will be able to advise you.

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