Bacterial pneumonia is an infection which causes inflammation of the lungs. Although there are several types of pneumonia such as viral pneumonia and aspiration pneumonia, the most common pneumonia is caused by a single celled organism, or bacteria, called streptococcus pneumoniae.
Bacterial pneumonia is easily contracted by the elderly whose immune systems are weakened due to age or disease. Pneumonia is also more common in babies under two, because their immune systems are still immature. Individuals with depressed immune systems due to serious illness, or those who are malnourished, are also at higher risk. Even the healthiest among us can contract bacterial pneumonia through our everyday contact with others.
Bacterial pneumonia, if left untreated can cause serious illness and death. The onset of symptoms can occur abruptly, often within hours of infection, and can lead to fever above 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Symptoms may include fatigue, shortness of breathe while resting, blueness of the skin, shaking or chills, fever, sweating, yellowish or greenish phlegm, and chest pain in either lung (lobe) where the infection has occurred. Other symptoms may include cough and even blood-stained sputum.
Individuals who suspect pneumonia should see a doctor immediately. The physician will most likely listen to their chest, and ask for an x-ray and samples of blood and phlegm to make a firm diagnosis of the type and cause of the pneumonia. If the doctor determines you have bacterial pneumonia, he will prescribe antibiotics orally, or by injection. It is important to follow through and to take the entire course of antibiotics prescribed. Depending upon the severity of your illness, he or she may ask you to recover at home for several weeks, or may admit you to a hospital if you have extreme breathlessness, or cyanosis (turning blue).
Bacteria is found everywhere – in the air we breathe, on surfaces we touch such as telephones and desktops – and it even lives in our digestive and respiratory tracts. A simple way to reduce our chance of infection is by washing our hands frequently throughout the day. Hands, wrists, and fingers, should be washed vigorously with warm water and regular soap for at least 20 seconds. Any alcohol-based hand sanitizer or wipe is effective in reducing germs if soap and water are not readily available.
Other precautions to avoid pneumonia include eating a nutritious diet to boost immune response, by taking restful sleep, and by exercising to improve lung function. It is a good idea to quit smoking. Those with COPD, asthma, or with compromised immune systems, should take extra precautions to avoid contact with those who have colds and flu, because bacterial pneumonia can easily follow a viral infection.
It is always a good idea to assist your natural defense mechanisms by taking good care of your health and by doing a few preventative measures to avoid becoming ill in the first place. The healthier you are, the better chance you have, of fighting off the bacterium which cause pneumonia.