The Chances Of Dying From Pneumonia

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Pneumonia: An overview

Pneumonia¹ is a term used to describe an infection of the lungs that causes inflammation. The lungs are vital to us as they provide oxygen to our blood, and pneumonia seriously affects their ability to function.

Pneumonia causes inflammation of the pulmonary parenchyma, including the alveoli, and can cause fluid or pus build-up in these alveoli. This leads to decreased oxygen uptake and other symptoms of pneumonia, such as a cough, fever, breathlessness, or chills.

Pneumonia can be caused by various infectious agents, including bacteria, viruses, and fungi. The prevalence of these different types of pneumonia changes depending on factors such as the environment (community or hospital), the patient’s age, and whether the patient has a pre-existing sickness or a compromised immune system.

Pneumonia can result in a mild sickness that can be overcome in days to weeks or a life-threatening illness that requires urgent hospitalization. Several factors affect a person’s chance of dying from pneumonia. However, you can also take steps to decrease the risk of a serious infection or death.

Types of pneumonia

One factor that may affect the seriousness of pneumonia is the cause of the infection, whether it is bacterial, fungal, or viral.

Viral pneumonia

In general,viral pneumonia is milder, with symptoms occurring gradually. Viruses, such as SARS-CoV-2 and the influenza virus, are known to cause pneumonia in some patients.

Bacterial pneumonia

Bacteria are a leading cause of pneumonia and, in many cases, cause serious infections that can be life-threatening. Notably, Streptococcus pneumoniae² (pneumococcus) is the most common cause of community-acquired pneumonia.

The symptoms of bacterial pneumonia can develop gradually or rapidly and cause multiple infection foci within the lungs. Hospitalization is sometimes needed due to a lack of oxygen absorption into the blood and other serious side effects.

In most cases, bacterial pneumonia can be treated with antibiotics. However, the specific bacteria may have a resistance to antibiotics or cause bacteremia (when bacteria is present in the bloodstream), which can lead to a more serious infection or sepsis.

Fungal pneumonia

Fungal pneumonia is more common in patients with severely weakened immune systems and, in general, can lead to a severe infection of the lungs. To treat this type of pneumonia, anti-fungal medication can be given.

Pneumonia can also be classified by where it is caught (community or hospital). When acquired from a hospital setting, pneumonia is often more dangerous because the pathogens in the hospital may be more resistant to antimicrobials, and patients in the hospital are often already sick before developing pneumonia.

Risk factors for serious pneumonia

Pneumonia can affect anyone at any time. However, some people are more likely to develop a severe or even life-threatening illness. Risk factors³ that most affect the chances of catching a serious case of pneumonia are listed below:

  • Weakened lungs from chronic respiratory or heart diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cystic fibrosis, asthma, and diabetes

  • Weakened immune system from, for example, chemotherapy, organ transplants, or immunosuppressant use

  • Adults over 65 years old

  • Children under two years old

  • Those in the hospital receiving assisted ventilation

  •  Injuries that result in a decreased lung capacity

  • Lifestyle factors such as smoking or vaping

  • Damp and overcrowded living environments

How does this happen?

When at-risk populations develop pneumonia, it is sometimes difficult to recognize the initial symptoms as something serious. Because of this, it is more likely for those at risk to only notice worrying symptoms once pneumonia has worsened and become more established within the lungs.

Unfortunately, those infections that are caught later have worse outcomes, and early treatment with antibiotics in the context of bacterial pneumonia is key.

Additionally, pre-existing heart and lung conditions such as COPD, cystic fibrosis, and diabetes increase the risk of developing more severe pneumonia. This is due to impairment in either immune functions or host pulmonary defenses.

The general outpatient mortality is around 1%, but it rises to 5-15%⁴ for hospitalized patients and 20-50% for those necessitating ICU-level care.

If caught too late by your health professional, a higher risk of serious infection exists, leading to potential hospitalization. To decrease this risk, it is important to recognize the early symptoms of pneumonia to ensure rapid treatment and recovery.

How to prevent pneumonia from becoming life-threatening

 In order to decrease the chance of pneumonia becoming a life-threatening illness, you can take some preventative steps, which include the following:

  • Monitoring your health, especially if you are already in the high-risk category

  • Being aware of the known symptoms of pneumonia, both early signs and the more serious symptoms, such as chest pain, confusion, cough, nausea, and fatigue — also note that pneumonia may occur after infection with a cold or flu due to a weakened immune system

  • Being sure to keep up to date on vaccines that may prevent a pneumonia infection, such as the SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19), pneumococcal, and Haemophilus influenzae (Hib) and influenza vaccines, based on ACIP recommendations

  • Practicing good hygiene

  • Avoiding activities that harm your lungs, such as smoking or vaping

  • Keeping healthy through diet and exercise

The lowdown

 Pneumonia is a lung infection caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi and can lead to severe or life-threatening illness and sometimes even a loss of life.

To decrease the chance of dying from pneumonia, it is paramount that early diagnosis and intervention be undertaken before serious infection can develop, especially among at-risk populations such as the elderly and the very young.

FAQ

Who is most likely to die from pneumonia?

 Anyone in a high-risk group, such as adults 65 years old or older, children under five years old, and people with ongoing medical conditions (like COPD or cystic fibrosis), is at a high risk of developing pneumonia and dying from the infection.

Can pneumonia be cured completely?

With early intervention and proper care, pneumonia will likely be completely cured without complications.

How quickly does pneumonia develop?

The symptoms of pneumonia can come on rapidly within 24–48 hours or develop slowly over several days. Common symptoms to look out for include a cough, headache, fever, and shortness of breath.

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