Pneumonia refers to a type of lower respiratory tract infection that leads to inflammation in one or both of your lungs.1 Pneumonia is not considered a seasonal disease per se, in that it can strike at any time throughout the year. However, colder weather seasons appear to bring on more cases of certain types of pneumonia, such as S. pneumoniae, polymicrobial pneumonia and L. pneumophilia.2
In the U.S., more than 3 million people develop pneumonia each year. Most recover with proper treatment, but about 50,000 persons a year still die from pneumonia, most of whom are adults.3
Since the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) no longer separates influenza deaths from pneumonia deaths in their National Vital Statistics reports,4 it’s not possible to state actual annual pneumonia deaths anymore, but in the last year in which the CDC did separate the numbers — 2014 — there were 50,622 deaths from pneumonia out of a combined 55,227 deaths for influenza and pneumonia.5 In the U.K., 1 in 1,000 adults becomes ill with pneumonia each year.6 Of that number about 29,000 die.7
What Causes Pneumonia?
It is important to know that pneumonia is not an infection with one single trigger. There are more than 30 different causes that can lead to this illness, and the cause must be determined in order to treat it properly.8 Bacteria, viruses and fungi are some of the major causes of pneumonia, although there are certain factors that can increase your risk of acquiring this illness.
When you breathe germs or other pneumonia-causing entities into your lungs, and your body’s immune system cannot prevent entry, the harmful organisms end up in the small air sacs called alveoli, where they multiply and cause inflammation. The body responds by sending white blood cells to attack the infection, and this causes the alveoli to fill up with pus or fluid, resulting in flu-like symptoms.9
Pneumonia may also manifest as a complication of the flu. It is much more serious than bronchitis, but these two illnesses may occur together, a condition known as bronchopneumonia. There are many different types of pneumonia, and they can be classified according to how the infection was acquired, the parts of the lungs in which the infection occurs, and the particular strain that caused the infection.
The symptoms of pneumonia usually include cough, fever, chills and shortness of breath. Other particular signs may also manifest, depending on whether your pneumonia is bacterial or viral. There are certain risk factors that can increase your chances of acquiring this illness, such as having a recent viral respiratory infection, cigarette smoking, recent surgery or trauma, and chronic lung disease.
Warning: Pneumonia Can Be Dangerous if Not Treated
Pneumonia can be life threatening if not treated immediately. In the U.S., about 50,000 people die annually because of this infection.10 People of all ages can acquire pneumonia, including very young children. In fact, pneumonia is the leading cause of death in children aged 5 and below worldwide. Although babies, elderly and those with compromised immune systems are at the highest risk of coming down with pneumonia, healthy people may also fall victim to this illness.
The good news is that pneumonia can be treated, and making a full recovery is possible. However, keep in mind that certain germs, bacteria or viruses are more serious than others. People who are already in ill health, such as cancer patients, are also at a heightened risk of dying from pneumonia.