Pneumonia can be described most simply as an inflammation or infection in the lungs. With causes that can be bacterial, fungal, or viral, pneumonia is a serious illness that has been around for centuries, and still hospitalizes and kills many people today. The most common form of pneumonia is a bacterial infection called pneumococcal pneumonia, which is triggered by the Streptococcus pneumoniae that live inside the lungs on a typical basis. Throughout its history, discovery, and multiple methods of infection, researchers, and physicians have been working towards preventative and curative methods for controlling and treating these cases, so that fewer patients are requiring hospitalization and fewer patients are being taken by their pneumonia infections.
Like many illnesses, the roots of pneumonia go back far in human history. With the earliest identification and diagnoses as far back as 400 BC, the term ‘pneumonia’ is coined from the Greek, and literally means ‘inflammation of the lung’. Pneumonia slowly grew more apparent, becoming an epidemic and being understood as its own separate illness in the 1500s (Gordon 821-822). With heightened epidemics from the 16th to 20th centuries, scientists and doctors were working on better understanding and controlling the illness, its causes and how it spread. The late 1800s saw the discovery of the bacterial agent that caused many cases of bacterial pneumonia.
The 1930s found a new breakthrough in pneumonia, with effective treatment and maintenance being discovered and utilized, referred to as a ‘serum’ and the recognition of the different sources of pneumonia infection (McKay 69). The introduction of penicillin and stronger antibiotics helped fight the most common types of pneumonia, and in the late 1970s, vaccines were created to prevent cases of Streptococcus pneumonia (Fein et al. 23). More recently, a child-friendly version of the vaccine was developed, and since the implementation of these regular vaccinations, the mortality rates and overall cases of pneumonia have been on a decline. It is recommended that individuals continue to receive pneumonia and influenza vaccine every year after the age of six months in order to ensure their best possible defenses against the disease (“Pneumonia,” WHO).
Even with many sources and causes of the disease, most pneumonia cases have extremely similar symptoms, depending on the incubation time and severity of the infection. The most common signs of a pneumonia infection are a fever and a cough, and usually shortness of breath or trouble breathing (“Pneumonia,” CDC). Depending on the severity of the illness, the symptoms may be mild or extreme as well. There are many symptoms that could be attributed to pneumonia as well, including body aches or headaches, fatigue, shaking, and chills. There may or may not be a pain in the chest, the abundant presence of mucus or sputum, a high pulse, confusion, and blue tint in the skin (Gordon 823-825).
Some unusual symptoms that have presented in cases of pneumonia include joint pain and even anorexia, and these are considered by many to be evidence of an ‘atypical’ pneumonia case (Fein et al. 42-43). Atypical pneumonia presents due to an atypical type of bacteria causing the symptoms. Other forms of atypical pneumonia include psittacosis, which is contracted from birds, mycoplasma, called ‘walking pneumonia’, and Legionnaire’s disease which is caused by Legionella bacteria and can also cause Pontiac Fever (“Pneumonia,” CDC). The symptoms usually present themselves within a few days after exposure and may worsen over the course of a week. As symptoms get more extreme, and neurological effects take hold, the lungs fully inflated, expanding and filling with fluid. The biggest cause of death in pneumonia patients is then asphyxiated, the fluid in the lungs preventing proper oxygen absorption (McKay 171).
Unfortunately, congenital pneumonia is an existing illness, in which an infant in the neonatal condition is already exhibiting symptoms or clinical signs of a pneumonia infection. These signs can usually be spotted immediately after or just before the birth of the child. The symptoms of congenital pneumonia, like many other congenital conditions, the symptoms can be hazy and easily confused with a variety of other conditions. Since infants cannot express or describe the nature of their symptoms or conditions, it can be difficult to accurately diagnose and treat these congenital conditions. There is also a possibility of sepsis syndrome in this kind of lung infection, which is extremely dangerous if contracted. If the inflammation or infection spread, the infant’s illness can become severely worsened, possibly leading to a state of shock and eventually death (Nissen 196). Due to the vague nature of the symptoms compared to many other congenital conditions, treatment is usually an expansive and all-encompassing antibiotic. Congenital pneumonia is a serious condition that can lead to sepsis, lung disease, and death. The severity of it keeps children hospitalized or even on ventilators as they fight the life-threatening disease.
The major problem with pneumonia is how easily it can be spread. The existence of previous illness or minor upper-respiratory infections makes one specifically vulnerable to the infection (McKay 70). Others at risk for developing pneumonia are individuals who participate in smoking and individuals who live in a crowded home. Children and older people are more vulnerable to the infection. Many of the kinds of bacteria that can lead to the development of pneumonia are already present in the nose and throat and can lead to infection if they are breathed into the lungs (“Pneumonia,” WHO). Due to this, coughing and sneezing from someone with the bacteria can infect another if they accidentally breathe in the droplets from the cough or sneeze. This makes pneumonia a disease that can be spread through airborne means.
Making sure to schedule and get pneumonia and influenza vaccination is the best way to prevent the infection, but it is important to maintain a healthy and clean environment to avoid getting sick in general from any illness. The World Health Organization website suggests people wash their hands frequently and make sure air pollution within the home is reduce (“Pneumonia,” WHO). Trying to stay away from individuals that are known to be infected is a good preventative measure and making sure any other ailments or illnesses one may have are being managed as well. The management of diseases like HIV and diabetes mellitus is important to prevent the onset of a pneumonia infection (“Pneumonia,” CDC).
The most effective treatment against pneumonia infection at the current time is a dose of antibiotics. The antibiotic amoxicillin is the most recognized and widely distributed antibiotic for pneumonia treatment. Hospitalization is not necessarily needed for all cases of pneumonia but monitoring and treatment distributed in a health center is best for individuals with a severe case of the disease (“Pneumonia”, WHO). Medical workers also suggest intaking fluids and resting to help the body fight off the infection. Through the quick and efficient treatment of pneumonia symptoms and infections, the patient should see an improvement in their status of well-being within a week’s time. However, it is typically 2-3 weeks before the lingering symptoms of the infection are completely gone (“Pneumonia,” CDC).
Pneumonia is an illness that can be caused by bacteria already commonly found in the nose and throat. On top of that, pneumonia can also be caused by viral and fungal sources and is easily contracted through air-borne infected particles. Individuals who cough or sneeze these droplets into the air put anyone at risk if the droplets are inhaled. The onset of pneumonia is dangerous and can lead to serious hospitalization and even death. Throughout its discovery, medical researchers have been working to understand and control the disease. With vaccinations available today, pneumonia is finally on the decline. Its history, symptoms, and treatment are now understood much more. If one takes the right preventative measures, pneumonia should be less of a concern, thanks to the hard work and diligence of medical researchers throughout time.
Fein, Alan, et al. Diagnosis and Management of Pneumonia and Other Respiratory Infections. 2nd edition, Professional Communications, Inc., 2006.
Gordon, Elizabeth Campbell. “Pneumonia.” The American Journal of Nursing, vol. 4, no. 11, 1904, pp. 821-827. doi:10.2307/3401766.
McKay, A. L. “Epidemiology and Etiology of Pneumonia.” Canadian Public Health Journal, vol. 30, no. 2, 1939, pp. 69–72. https://www.jstor.org
Nissen, Michael D. “Congenital and Neonatal Pneumonia.” Paediatric Respiratory Reviews, vol. 8, no. 3, 2007, pp. 195-203. https://sciencedirect.com
“Pneumonia.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2018, www.cdc.gov/pneumonia/index.html.
“Pneumonia.” World Health Organization, 2016, https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/pneumonia