October 3, 2023

Pneumonia is an infection of the small air sacs of the lungs called alveoli. These balloon-shaped air sacs arranged like clusters of grapes throughout the lungs are very important because they are responsible for the exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen to and from the bloodstream. When pneumonia develops, this exchange of gases – removal of toxic carbon dioxide and oxygenation of the blood – becomes impaired, leading to serious complications because all our body processes depend on oxygen.
Pneumonia is one of the most common causes of hospitalization and deaths worldwide. Infection usually occurs after organisms in air droplets are inhaled into the lungs, but it may also occur when organisms from other parts of the body are carried to the lungs through the bloodstream and if organisms migrate to the lungs from nearby organs.
Not all people easily catch pneumonia. Some persons are more susceptible to develop this infection because of risk factors like cigarette smoking, heart failure, diabetes mellitus, chronic obstructive lung disease, severe kidney and liver disease, malnutrition, and extreme age – the very young and the very old.
Other persons at risk are those taking medications to treat cancer or to prevent rejection of a transplanted organ, those who are bedridden, paralyzed, unconscious, or diagnosed to have AIDS.
These conditions are associated with weak immune system wherein the body’s defense system cannot fight off the invading organism.
Pneumonia may also occur after surgery or injury, especially those involving the abdomen or the chest. These are associated with shallow breathing, impaired coughing mechanism, and mucus retention.
The most common causes of pneumonia in adults are bacteria: streptococcus pneumonia – the most common cause; staphylococcus aureus, legionella, and haemophilus influenza. Other causes are viruses like measles, influenza, and chickenpox. Mycoplasma pneumoniae and chlamydia are organisms that resemble bacteria and cause atypical pneumonia. Fungi like candida albicans also cause infection of the lungs.
An outbreak of a mysterious type of pneumonia has been reported in Wuhan, China on December 2019. It affected at least 59 persons who were dealers or vendors in a food market. According to the World Health Organization, initial results of studies show that the infection is caused by a new and still unnamed virus classified as a coronavirus.
This family of corona viruses that cause common mild colds also include those that caused the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome or SARS in China for the first time in 2002 and the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome or MERS in Saudi Arabia for the first time in 2012.
The source of this new mysterious pneumonia, how it is acquired and how it is transmitted is still being studied. There is still no proof that the virus is transferred from person to person. Persons affected complained of fever, body pains, and difficulty in breathing.
Viral pneumonia is not treated with the common antibiotics that we are familiar with. Antiviral drugs may be given but this is done after careful studies prove their efficacy and safety. Treatment is mainly supportive to prevent severe complications especially of non-oxygenation of the lungs like damage to vital organs like the brain, kidneys, liver, and the heart. Vaccination against the identified common causes of infection is available but vaccines against new organisms still have to be developed. Preventive measures include basic health and self-care measures like adequate rest, proper nutrition, exercise, blood sugar and blood pressure control.

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