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Signs of Pneumonia. Is it Contagious?

Updated on November 9, 2013

Pneumonia refers to an infectious condition characterized by the inflammation of the alveoli occurring in one or both the lungs. There may be buildup of pus or fluids in the air sacs, which result in fever, cough with pus or phlegm, breathing problems, and chills. Pneumonia can be caused by a variety of pathogens such as viruses, bacteria, and fungi.

Pneumonia can differ in severity levels that range from mild to serious. Infants, young children, the elderly over 65 years of age, and people with compromised immune systems or existing health issues are most likely to experience serious instances of pneumonia.

Most common types of pneumonia can be treated with antivirals and antibiotics.

Symptoms of pneumonia

Depending on a number of factors such as the general health and age of the patient, and the causal pathogen, the signs and symptoms of pneumonia can differ in severity levels. Mild symptoms are the same as experienced during flu or colds, but they persist for longer durations. Some common symptoms of pneumonia are listed below:

  • Shaking chills, perspiration, and fever
  • Coughing that can release sticky and thick fluids
  • People with failing health of the immune system as well as the elderly may elicit body temperatures that are lower than normal
  • Pain in chest during coughing or deep breathing
  • Muscle pain
  • Fatigue
  • Breathlessness
  • Headache
  • Vomiting, nausea, or diarrhea
  • Older patients may experience sudden alterations in metal awareness
  • There may be no signs of infections in infants and newborns, or they may experience fever, coughing, vomiting, tiredness, lack of energy, restlessness, and eating and breathing problems.

Causes and types of pneumonia

There are several possible causes of pneumonia, with the most common being the viruses and bacteria occurring in the air. The immune system generally fights off these organisms from affecting the lungs. However, the pathogens can occasionally subdue the immune system, even in healthy individuals.

Depending on the place of acquiring the infection and the kind of germ that causes it, pneumonia is categorized into the following types:

  • Community-acquired pneumonia: It is the most common form of pneumonia and develops outside of varied health care facilities or hospitals. It can be caused by:
    • Bacteria such as Streptococcus pneumonia. The condition can develop on its own, or after an episode of respiratory flu or a cold. It may also affect one part or lobe of the lung and result in lobar pneumonia.
    • Viruses which can be of the same kind that cause flu and colds. These germs are the most common cause of pneumonia in infants below two years of age. Viral pneumonia is usually not severe. However, those caused by some influenza viruses like SARS can turn very life-threatening.
    • Pathogens similar to bacteria such as Mycoplasma pneumoniae. As compared to other pneumonia types, the accompanying symptoms are usually milder. Walking pneumonia is one such mild condition that does not need bed rest.
    • Fungi, which are present in bird droppings and soil. Fungal pneumonia often affects people with weakened immune systems or underlying health issues, and those who have inhaled large quantities of pathogens.
    • Health care-acquired pneumonia: It is an infection caused by bacteria that affects people seeking treatment in outpatient clinics or kidney dialysis centers, and/or those residing for prolonged durations at health care facilities. It can be a serious condition as the bacteria in health care centers can be more antibiotic resistant.
    • Hospital-acquired pneumonia:It is an infection caused by bacteria that affects individuals who have spent 48 hours or more at a hospital for treatment of another disease. Hospital bacteria can also be immune to the effects of antibiotics. Individuals who are placed on ventilators are at greater risk to developing hospital-acquired pneumonia.
    • Aspiration pneumonia: Individuals who inhale drinks, food, saliva, or vomit into the lungs can suffer from aspiration pneumonia. It can occur because of compromised gag reflex which may happen due to swallowing anomalies, brain injuries, or drug or alcohol abuse.

Is pneumonia contagious?

Viruses and bacteria commonly cause pneumonia, and both of them are contagious pathogens. Fungal infections that result in pneumonia are generally not contagious.

Treatment of pneumonia

Pneumonia treatment involves cure of the infection and prevention of any health complications.

  • Patients of community-acquired pneumonia are typically treated at home with varied drugs. The symptoms may alleviate within some days or weeks, but fatigue can continue for a month or more.
  • Follow-up x-rays are taken to verify whether the infections are subsiding. Doctors may recommend stopping treatment even if the x-rays are not normal. This is because only 50 percent of community-acquired pneumonia patients show normal x-rays after about a month of treatment.
  • Antibiotics are prescribed to treat bacterial pneumonia, while anti-viral drugs are given in case of viral pneumonia.
  • Other medications include ibuprofen to reduce fever, and cough syrups to ease coughing.
  • People with severe symptoms like breathing problems, excessive vomiting or nausea, drop in blood pressure, and low body temperatures, etc. may require hospitalization.
  • Seasonal flu shots and/or vaccination is recommended. Consult your health care provider for more details.

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