Pneumonia is a serious infection of the lungs that kills over a million people each year. The symptoms of the disease usually begin with a fever and an uncomfortable sensation in the chest. Then, a person will begin to have wheezing and a build-up of phlegm in their lungs that causes them to persistently cough. As the disease progresses, they will get weak and easily out of breath.
Causes of Pneumonia
This disease can be caused by either bacteria, viruses, or fungi, which induce inflammation and swelling in the lungs. Some forms of pneumonia are contagious. So once a person in a family gets it, the others can “catch it.”
Anyone can get pneumonia, but some people have more risk factors than others. For instance, a person who smokes will already have a certain amount of inflammation and damage to their lungs, which puts them at risk for getting other lung diseases like pneumonia. The elderly who are over the age of 65-years-old and the very young who are under the age of two are also at risk because they have lower immune systems than others. Those who are middle-aged can fight off a pneumonia infection much more easily if they are physically fit and eat a balanced diet.
Past Treatment Options
Although there is a high rate of deaths from this disease now, it used to be even higher. Before the advent of antibiotics, millions of people died each year from pneumonia. Hospitals did what they could, utilizing rudimentary treatments, but there were too many patients who had the disease. The invention of penicillin helped lower this number considerably, but it lead to other problems. We now have antibiotic-resistant bacteria that are immune to the effects of the antibiotics available today.
A recent breakthrough may be the answer to the prevention of pneumonia. A pneumonia vaccine was developed that helps the body build up the immune system against it. However, the vaccine only works against the bacterial form of pneumonia called “streptococcus pneumoniae.” There are no methods of preventing pneumonia that is caused by a virus or a fungus as of yet. The vaccine works by injecting a small amount of the streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria into the bloodstream. This causes a flood of white blood cells to respond, so the body will begin to make antibodies against it. Once these antibodies are built up, any of the bacteria that get into the bloodstream later on will be quickly eradicated because the body will know that the bacteria is a foreign threat.
Side Effects of the Vaccine
Doctors are recommending that those who are over the age of 65 get the vaccine for pneumonia. There is no booster shot available, but doctors have recommended that patients get a second pneumonia vaccine once it has been at least ten years since their last one. There are some side effects that should be considered before anyone gets the vaccine though. Some of them include:
- Problems with vision
- Slowed heart rate
- Trouble breathing
- Swollen glands
- Joint and muscle pain
- Changes in behavior and confusion
- Soreness and pain at the injection site
- Nausea and vomiting
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