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What is Pneumonia?

Winter is well known as cold and flu season, but pneumonia is more common as well.  This is the 6th leading cause of death, claiming the lives of 40,000 Americans per year. Most of these are people over 65 with coexisting medical problems, and half of them probably were not vaccinated.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the vaccine for pneumoccal pneumonia for everyone over 65; they anticipate this would prevent nearly half of all pneumonia-related deaths.  If you've been vaccinated, ask your doctor if you need a booster every 5 years.

Pneumonia is an inflammation of the tiny air sacs in the lungs.  About half of pneumonia cases are caused by viruses, 30% are caused by bacteria, and about 20% are caused by mycoplasma.

Pneumonia is contagious.  People with weakened immune systems are much more likely to become infected.  The hallmarks of pneumonia are fever, persistent cough, sore throat, congestion, chills, and shortness of breath, but not all symptoms present in all cases.   "Walking pneumonia" is a more mild condition which lingers longer.  Persistent bronchitis can often convert to pneumonia, especially in smokers or those with other respiratory conditions.

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Created: 2/16/2001  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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