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Fight pneumonia with good hygiene, strong immunity

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World Pneumonia Day comes up on November 12. Health experts describe the condition as an infection that inflames the air sacs in one or both lungs. The air sacs may be filled with fluid or pus, purulent material, causing cough with phlegm, fever, chills, and difficulty in breathing. A variety of organisms, including bacteria, viruses and fungi, can cause pneumonia.

The condition can range from mild to life threatening, if not properly treated. It is most serious in infants and young children, people older than 65 years, and people with health problems or weakened immune system.

However, health experts have explained that with good hygiene, quitting smoking, and keeping the immune system strong, exercising and eating healthy, pneumonia could be prevented. They also recommend regular medical checks, as well as presenting condition early.

Former President, Association of Resident Doctors at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Dr. Olubunmi Omojowolo, said signs and symptoms of pneumonia vary from mild to severe, depending on such factors as the type of germ causing the infection, age and overall health.

He said: “Mild signs and symptoms are often similar to those of cold or flu, but they last longer. Many germs could cause pneumonia, but the most common are bacteria and viruses in the air we breathe. The body usually prevents these germs from infecting the lungs. But sometimes, these germs can overpower the immune system, even if the individual’s health is generally good.

“Pneumonia is classified according to the types of germs that cause it, and where you got the infection, which include community-acquired pneumonia, hospital-acquired pneumonia and health care-acquired pneumonia, among others.

“Community-acquired pneumonia is the most common type of pneumonia. It occurs outside of hospitals or other health care facilities, and may be caused by bacteria, fungi and viruses, among others.

“The most common cause of bacterial pneumonia is streptococcus pneumoniae. This type of pneumonia can occur on its own, or after you’ve had cold or flu. It may affect one part (lobe) of the lung, a condition called lobar pneumonia.

“Fungi pneumonia is most common in people with chronic health problems or weakened immune systems, and in people who have inhaled large doses of the organisms. The fungi that cause it can be found in soil or bird droppings and vary, depending on geographic location.

“Viral pneumonia is the most common cause in children younger than five years. Viral pneumonia is usually mild. But in some cases, it can become very serious”.

Omojowolo said hospital-acquired pneumonia occurs, when patients are affected during a hospital stay for another illness. Hospital-acquired pneumonia can be serious, as the bacteria causing it may be more resistant to antibiotics and because the people who get it are already sick.

He said: “People who are on breathing machine ventilators, often used in intensive care units, are at higher risk of this type of pneumonia.

“Health care-acquired pneumonia is a bacterial infection that occurs in people who live in long-term care facilities, or who receive care in outpatient clinics, including kidney dialysis centres. Like hospital-acquired pneumonia, bacteria that are more resistant to antibiotics can cause health care-acquired pneumonia.

“Aspiration pneumonia occurs, when the patient inhales food, drink, vomit or saliva into the lungs. It is more likely if something disturbs the patient’s normal gag reflex, such as a brain injury or swallowing problem, or excessive use of alcohol or drugs.”

Omojowolo advised that people should visit hospitals and keep appointments with doctors to prevent pneumonia.

He said: “For instance, vaccines are available to prevent some types of pneumonia and flu. Talk with your doctor about getting these shots. The vaccination guidelines have changed over time, so make sure to review your vaccination status with your doctor, even if you recall previously receiving a pneumonia vaccine.

“Parents should ensure their children get vaccinated. Doctors recommend a different pneumonia vaccine for children younger than age two and for children from ages two to five years, who are at particular risk of pneumococcal disease. Children who attend a group childcare centre should also get the vaccine. Doctors also recommend flu shots for children older than six months.”


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