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Donald M. Yealy


UPMC Media Relations

Get the Facts about Pneumonia: UPMC Medical Experts Offer Advice on How to Fight the Disease

PITTSBURGH, January 28, 2003 Community acquired pneumonia is an infection and inflammation of the lungs and is caused by a wide variety of organisms, including viruses, bacteria and fungi. Pneumonia is a major contributor of illness and hospitalizations in the United States. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 2 to 4 million cases occur annually and it is the number one leading cause of death due to infection.

Pneumonia is transmitted through person-to-person contact by respiratory secretions and is sometimes difficult to detect because it often mimics other common ailments such as colds and influenza. Symptoms of pneumonia many include one or any combination of the following:

  • Cough (dry to blood-streaked or rusty colored sputum)
  • Rapid pulse and respiration
  • Fever (100.4 F to 105 F)
  • Pain with breathing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chills
  • Nausea and vomiting

There are ways to protect oneself from pneumonia, says Donald Yealy, M.D., professor and vice chairman of the department of emergency medicineat the Universityof Pittsburgh School of Medicine. Getting a flu shot each year is one way, because pneumonia is often a complication of influenza. A pneumonia vaccine also is available for those who are at greatest riskfor this disease the elderly and those with chronic illnesses, added Dr. Yealy.

The elderly are often most affected by pneumonia because they tend to have compromised immune systems and chronic illnesses. Other factors that put the elderly at risk include a decrease in lung function and elasticity as well as a decrease in respiratory muscle strength and cough reflex.

The elderly may acquire many of the same symptoms of pneumonia that the younger population does. However, they may only exhibit as little as one, making it difficult to detect, says Amelia Gennari, M.D., geriatrician at the UPMC Shadyside Senior Care Institute.

Many physicians and hospitals throughout the United States use the Pneumonia Severity Index when making a diagnosis of how sick a patient is. Physicians consider age; gender; co-existing illnesses; and physical, laboratory and radiographic findings to determine disease severity. Once a diagnosis is made, blood cultures are taken before antibiotics are prescribed. Some pneumonia patients are so sick that they require hospitalization with intravenous antibiotics. In addition to antibiotics, most people recover with lots of rest and a well-balanced diet. Younger patients typically recover within a week after infection. However, in middle-aged and elderly patients, it can take several weeks before they feel well again.

If you have symptoms of pneumonia:

  • Call your doctor immediately. Early diagnosis and treatment are important
  • Follow your doctors advice and take all prescribed medications even after you are feeling better
  • Stay well-rested, drink plenty of fluids and eat a well-balanced diet to help build strength

"Even after recovery, it is important to get plenty of rest and not overdo it. Jumping in full force at work or school after illness may cause a slower recovery, adds Dr. Yealy.

For more information on where to obtain either a flu shot or pneumonia vaccination, contact the Allegheny County Health Department at 412-687-2243.

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