Pneumonia is a severe respiratory infection which causes air sacs of one or both lungs to be inflamed and filled with fluid and pus. It is not a single disease. Many small germs such as bacteria, viruses, fungi and even certain chemicals can cause pneumonia.
A person with pneumonia will have poor amount of oxygen in his blood, thus his body cells will not be able to work properly. He or she will also experience cough, fever, chills, and trouble breathing. Just like other serious illnesses, pneumonia, if left untreated, can lead to complications such as paralysis, mental retardation, seizures, learning disabilities, hearing loss and death.
Anyone is at risk to catch pneumonia, although some are more likely to catch it because of existing illnesses, pre-existing conditions or lifestyle. According to the American Lung Association, the following have higher chance of getting pneumonia:
- Those who smoke (active and passive)
- Those who recently had viral respiratory infection—a cold, laryngitis, influenza, etc.
- Those who have difficulty swallowing due to neurological conditions
- Those with chronic lung disease such as COPD, bronchiectasis, or cystic fibrosis)
- Those with cerebral palsy
- Those with other serious illnesses, such as heart disease, liver cirrhosis, or diabetes
- Those living in a nursing facility
- Those whose consciousness has been impaired due to loss of brain function
- Those who have recently undergone surgery or trauma
- Those with weak immune system due to illness, certain medications, and autoimmune disorders
In the Philippines, pneumonia remains one of the serious infections that cause morbidity among Filipinos, especially children aged one to four years old. A recent study by the University of the Philippines College of Medicine and Philippine General Hospital (PGH) showed that pneumonia kills 5,479 children each day in a year. This is more than the number of deaths caused by AIDS, malaria and measles combined.
Pneumonia, however, can be prevented through frequent hand-washing, good nutrition, strong immune system, and breast-feeding during an infant’s first six months of life. One of the most effective ways to prevent pneumonia is also through vaccination.
According to Dr. Gerald D. Supañgan, pulmonologist at PhilCare Makati Clinic, the flu vaccine and the PCV or Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine (PCV) are available in the country and can effectively prevent pneumonia. The Department of Health has in fact added free anti-pneumonia vaccination to its immunization program for children to improve health care in the country.
But according to Dr. Supañgan the most effective way to prevent this serious infection is through smoking cessation. Smokers, both active and passive, are likely to develop pneumonia because cigarette components destroy the cilia, or the tiny hairs, in the upper respiratory tract which serves as a barrier against pollutants and infection. He added that smoking cessation is also recommended for all patients with pneumonia who are current smokers.
Dr. Supañgan of PhilCare also offered the following facts on the PCV and flu vaccine:
Who should receive the flu vaccine:
- All persons aged 50 years old and below
- Persons with chronic illness; chronic pulmonary (including asthma), cardiovascular (except hypertension), renal, liver, neurological, blood disorders, diabetes mellitus
- Immune-compromised persons
- Pregnant women in their 2nd and 3rd trimester
- Residents of nursing homes and other chronic care facilities
- Health care personnel
- Household contacts (including children) and caregivers of children aged 5 years below and adults 26 years and below
- Household contacts (including children) and caregivers of persons with medical conditions that put them in high risk of severe complications from flu
Who should receive PCV:
- Persons aged 60 years old and below
- Persons with chronic illness; chronic pulmonary, cardiovascular, diabetes milletus, chronic alcoholism, chronic liver diseases, chronic liver failure
- Immune-compromised persons
- Residents of nursing homes and other long-term facilities
- Smokers or asthmatic persons aged 19 to 64 years