It’s that time of year again, the winter months have the highest incidence of Community Acquired Pneumonia (CAP) which is only one of 30 different types! Unfortunately it is the most common type, highly contagious and is a leading cause of death among adults. CAP is responsible for over 4.5 million ER and Outpatient visits annually. It is the second most common cause of hospital admissions. The incidence among older adults is 2000/100,000 in comparison to all ages at 650/100,000 each year and surprisingly 9% of all cases are rehospitalized within the same year!
Pneumonia happens when an infection starts in the air sacs that line the lungs called alveoli become filled or “infiltrated” with fluid or pus. The cause can be bacterial, viral, or fungal and can be extremely debilitating to even a healthy senior. The most common comorbidities placing people at higher risk are COPD followed by CHF, Diabetes, and strokes. At highest risk are adults older than 65, kids younger than 2, smokers, and people with compromised immune systems.
A few facts about the different types: The most likely culprit for bacterial pneumonia is streptococcus that lives in our upper respiratory tract, it accounts for 900,000 annually and affects people of all ages. Viral pneumonia is responsible for ⅓ of all cases and is usually caused by the influenza virus, this is why the flu vaccine is so important. Fungal pneumonias are not contagious person to person, affects people with compromised immune systems and will cause a severe, mucous producing cough. Aspiration pneumonia can happen after a stroke and usually occurs in the right lung. There is a shorter anatomical path to the right lung making it more susceptible to receiving stomach contents if there is a delay in swallowing. If you have a history of pneumonia in the right lung your doctor may send you for a swallow study to find the source.
Almost all have similar symptoms of fever, chills, headaches, shortness of breath, extreme fatigue, muscle pain, loss of appetite, worsening cough, and yellow, green, or bloody sputum. If you are experiencing any of these please consider reaching out to your doctor. Diagnosis is easy with a chest xray and bloodwork and early treatment is important as it can lead to respiratory failure, sepsis, and death. The overall incidence in the US is decreasing believed to be from the increase in vaccinations. Please talk to your doctor about the different vaccines available and which one is right for you.