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This year once again Pneumonia Day (November 12) came and went without much fanfare. Although great progress has been made in preventing and treating the disease, it still affects three in 1,000 people annually and has a 10-15 per cent rate of mortality.
Pneumonia can occur as a result of infection with a wide spectrum of organisms, with viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites implicated. Infection can be acquired from others in the community. It can develop as a complication of prolonged hospitalisation for other illnesses or surgery.
In infants less than three weeks, the organism is often acquired from the birth canal. School-going children may get it from their peers. Adults are more likely to develop pneumonia if they smoke, drink, are obese or have diabetes. People who are immune-compromised (the system doesn’t work as well as it should) as a result of steroids, treatment for cancer or if they have AIDS are also at a higher risk.
Our stomach contains partially digested food that is held back by sphincters (muscles that constrict or relax passages as required). Sometimes the sphincters become lax and the food may regurgitate into the lungs. This is “aspiration pneumonia” and can occur with loss of consciousness or a stroke, after surgery, or when a person is fed through a tube. The infection is “mixed” with a bouquet of organisms and is difficult to treat.
The mouth contains many organisms, which proliferate with dental caries or gum disease. These organisms may pass inadvertently into the lungs during sleep causing pneumonia.
Influenza can cause viral pneumonia. This is seasonal and is often associated with conjunctivitis or diarrhoea. It can be severe like in SARS, avian flu or swine flu. Initially, it is difficult to distinguish between a viral pneumonia (which doesn’t require or respond to antibiotics) and a bacterial infection. Many viral pneumonias progress to bacterial infections.
The cilia (fine hair) lining the lungs initially try to push out infecting organisms. The lung cells then secrete antibody-containing mucous in which the organisms get trapped. Cough reflexes set in trying to expel the organism. When this fails, the organism gains a foothold, starts to proliferate and causes pneumonia.
Tobacco contains nicotine which paralyses the protective cilia. They became inactive, inefficient and ineffective. This is why smokers develop pneumonia frequently. Others (particularly women and children) who live with smokers are also affected similarly by the smoke filled environment.
The common signs of pneumonia are fever, rapid breathing, a cough, breathlessness, sweating, chills, headache, muscle pain and tiredness. The chest overlying the affected portion of the lung may hurt while breathing.
These typical symptoms may not occur in older people. The temperature may fall below normal instead of rising. The breathing may become shallow and ineffective. Coughing may become difficult.
Pneumonia was a dangerous and fatal disease before the antibiotic era. Timely, adequate and appropriate treatment has considerably reduced its mortality. It can still be life threatening.
If you have been diagnosed with pneumonia, take the medication as prescribed without resorting to alternative systems of medicine. Seven to 14 days of antibiotics may be required to eliminate the infection. Pneumonia can recur if inadequately treated. Also, drink plenty of fluids. This helps keep the secretions fluid, making it easy to cough out. Do not be in a hurry to return to school or work. If you do so before you are fully cured, you will spread the infection.
Pneumonia is often a complication of seasonal influenza. A vaccine is available against seasonal flu and certain types like swine flu. Timely immunisation prevents infection.
Two of the common bacteria casing pneumonia are H. infuenzae and Strep pneumonia. Immunisation is available against both and should be given to children. Pneumococcal vaccine is available for adults too. It should be taken after the age of 55, preferably by all adults and definitely by those with diabetes, asthma, kidney or liver disease.
Contaminated hands efficiently carry bacteria. Washing your hands frequently helps remove disease-causing bacteria and reduces the incidence of pneumonia.
Visit a dentist regularly and take care of your teeth. Maintain your health and immunity. You can do this not by consuming tonics, rejuvenators and health supplements, but by maintaining your ideal body weight, exercising regularly, and adding fresh fruits and raw vegetables to your diet.
Source : The Telegraph ( Kolkata, India)
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