Pneumonia is a very popular term but perhaps very misunderstood.
There are several myths about pneumonia. Myths like these:
It only affects elderly people.
It is not a very serious illness.
It is caused by cold weather.
These statements are very untrue. As a matter of fact, pneumonia can affect people of all ages and can cause mild to severe illness. Also, it is not directly caused by cold weather.
According to the World Health Organization, pneumonia is the leading cause of death in children under 5 years of age, killing about 920,136 children worldwide in 2015.
To answer the question if pneumonia is contagious, the simple answer is Yes. We would give details in a bit.
In this article, we would be explaining what causes pneumonia, how pneumonia is spread, its symptoms, treatment and how to prevent it.
What is Pneumonia?
The word pneumonia is coined from the Greek term 'pneumon' which means 'lung' or floater'.
Pneumonia is simply an inflammation of the lung.
This inflammation can make breathing difficult and limit oxygen intake. Exposure to bacterial and viral agents is the most common reason why people have pneumonia.
What causes pneumonia?
Pneumonia can be caused by bacteria, virus, fungi, or chemical that reaches the lung either directly by inhalation or indirectly via the bloodstream.
When the body's immune system spots the invading agent, it attacks it at the alveoli. (Alveoli are tiny air sacs where gas is exchanged in the lungs).
Consequently, this defense mechanism leads to the accumulation of fluid and pus in areas that should be filled with air, hence the development of symptoms and signs like difficulty breathing and cough.
Who is at risk of developing pneumonia?
There are some risk factors that increase a person's likelihood of developing pneumonia.
Here are some:
Extremes of age (infants and old age)
A weak immune system whether acquired or inherited
Chronic lung disease, kidney disease, and/or liver disease
Recent surgery or trauma
Living in a long-term care facility
Hospital staff may spread an infection and are also at increased risk of developing pneumonia.
Is Pneumonia Contagious?
Depending on the causative agent, yes, pneumonia can be contagious.
Bacteria and viruses are contagious, so, if either of them is the cause, it can be spread from person to person.
Bacterial and viral pneumonia can be spread by:
- Sharing eating utensils
- Touching an infected object
However, it is important to note that not everyone exposed to the same bacteria or virus would develop pneumonia.
If the cause is fungal, it is likely spread from the environment. In this case, it is not contagious and can not be spread from person to person.
What are the symptoms of pneumonia?
Symptoms of pneumonia can vary based on factors like age, health status and the type of pneumonia.
Common symptoms of pneumonia are:
- Feeling tired and low energy
- Cough with phlegm production (may be bloody)
- Fever and body shaking referred to as rigors
- Shortness of breath especially on exertion
Some other symptoms are:
- Chest pain
- Excessive sweating and clammy skin
- Increase awareness of breathing and heartbeats
- Headaches and altered conscious level
- Loss of appetite
How is pneumonia diagnosed?
Pneumonia can be diagnosed clinically. When medical advice is sought, the doctor will ask several questions relating to when the symptoms started and try to assess what type of pneumonia it is.
The doctor will also try to determine how severe it is. This assessment is necessary to decide what treatment is best for a particular case.
The doctor will also perform an examination and will listen for crackling sounds in the chest using a stethoscope. Further testing may be needed like:
Blood oxygen levels by a bedside pulse oximetry or invasive blood sample.
CT scan of the chest
How is pneumonia treated?
Pneumonia is treated depending on its type and severity.
Most cases of pneumonia do not require hospitalization.
Antibiotics, antiviral and antifungal agents can be used to treat the causative agent. Antibiotics are not used for viral pneumonia.
Other medications like painkillers, cough syrup, and anti-fever medications may be prescribed to take care other symptoms.
Here are some tips to help with recovery from a bout of pneumonia:
- Good physical and mental rest
- Drink ample amounts of fluid to be well hydrated
- Adhere to taking the antibiotics as prescribed.
If pneumonia is severe, hospitalization may be required. During a hospital admission for pneumonia, fluids, intravenous antibiotics and oxygen may be administered.
It may take some time to return to normal activities depending on one's age and other factors.
There is a term called 'walking pneumonia', also referred to as a 'silent' pneumonia. It is a mild form of pneumonia where the infected person is not sick enough to be in bed.
What are the complications of pneumonia?
In some instances, the inflammation may lead to an unwanted effect named a ‘complication’.
Some complications include:
- lung abscess formation
- accumulation of fluid in the sac around the lung
- spread of the infective agent into the bloodstream
- respiratory failure.
How do you prevent pneumonia?
Despite how common and dangerous pneumonia is, it can be prevented.
Here are some tips to prevent pneumonia:
- Exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life for newborns helps boost their natural immunity against pneumonia.
- Improve indoor air quality
- Regular hand washing
- Cover nose and mouth with a handkerchief or tissue paper when sneezing or coughing.
- Stop smoking
- Get vaccinated. Vaccines are available for different causative agents of pneumonia.
The annual influenza vaccine, also known as the flu shot, is indicated for high-risk groups. Check with your physician to get an accurate feedback about your available local vaccination protocol.