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Pneumonia Facts

International Global Health

What is Pneumonia?


Pneumonia is a form of acute respiratory infection that is most commonly caused by viruses or bacteria that affects the lungs.

The lungs are made up of small sacs called alveoli, which fill with air when a healthy person breathes. When an individual has pneumonia, the alveoli are filled with pus and fluid, which makes breathing painful and limits oxygen intake. Pneumonia is generally spread by direct contact with infected people.



Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs that is usually caused by bacteria or viruses. Globally, pneumonia causes more deaths than any other infectious disease.

Pneumonia can be prevented by immunization, adequate nutrition, and by addressing environmental factors.

Pneumonia caused by bacteria can be treated with antibiotics, but only one third of children with pneumonia receive the antibiotics they need.



Pneumonia is caused by a number of infectious agents, including viruses, bacteria and fungi. The most common are:

  • Streptococcus pneumoniae – the most common cause of bacterial pneumonia in children;
  • Haemophilusinfluenzae type b (Hib) – the second most common cause of bacterial pneumonia; respiratory syncytial virus is the most common viral cause of pneumonia; in infants infected with HIV, Pneumocystis jiroveci is one of the most common causes of pneumonia, responsible for at least one quarter of all pneumonia deaths in HIV-infected infants.



Pneumonia can be spread in a number of ways. The viruses and bacteria that are commonly found in a child`s nose or throat, can infect the lungs if they are inhaled. They may also spread via air-borne droplets from a cough or sneeze. In addition, pneumonia may spread through blood, especially during and shortly after birth. 



  • High fever up to 105 F
  • Coughing out greenish, yellow, or bloody mucus
  • Chills that make you shake
  • Feeling like you cannot catch your breath, especially when you move around a lot
  • Feeling very tired
  • Low appetite
  • Sharp or stabby chest pain (you might feel it more when you cough or take a deep breath)
  • Sweating a lot
  • Fast breathing and heartbeat



When you visit your doctor to see if you have pneumonia, there are some medical examination that may be suggested by your doctor, as follows:

  • Listening to your lungs with a stethoscope, for a crackling or bubbling sound
  • Chest X-ray
  • Blood test to check white blood cell count
  • Sputum tests (using a microscope to look at the gunk you cough up)
  • pulse oximetry test, which measures the oxygen in your blood



If you have bacterial pneumonia, you will get antibiotics. Make sure you take all of the medicine your doctor gives you, even if you start to feel better.

If you have viral pneumonia, antibiotics won`t help. You will need to rest, drink a lot of fluids, and take medicines for your fever.


You may need to go to a hospital if your symptoms are severe or if you have other conditions that make you more likely to have complications. 

With any kind of pneumonia, you`re going to need lots of rest. You might need a week off your usual routines, but you might still feel tired for a month.


Health tips

To prevent pneumonia in children is an essential component of a strategy to reduce child mortality. Immunization against Hib, pneumococcus, measles and whooping cough (pertussis) is the most effective way to prevent pneumonia.

Adequate nutrition is key to improving children`s natural defences, starting with exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life. In addition to being effective in preventing pneumonia, it also helps to reduce the length of the illness if a child does become ill.

Addressing environmental factors such as indoor air pollution (by providing affordable clean indoor stoves, for example) and encouraging good hygiene in crowded homes also reduces the number of children who fall ill with pneumonia.

The WHO and UNICEF integrated Global action plan for pneumonia and diarrhoea (GAPPD) aims to accelerate pneumonia control with a combination of interventions to protect, prevent, and treat pneumonia in children with actions to:

  • protect children from pneumonia including promoting exclusive breastfeeding and adequate complementary feeding
  • prevent pneumonia with vaccinations, hand washing with soap, reducing household air pollution, HIV prevention and cotrimoxazole prophylaxis for HIV-infected and exposed children
  • treat pneumonia focusing on making sure that every sick child has access to the right kind of care, either from a community-based health worker, or in a health facility if the disease is severe and can get the antibiotics and oxygen they need to get well


World Health International (WHO)

CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Web MD



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