Is pneumonia contagious to babies or dogs?
Before we get on with this topic, let us first understand what pneumonia is and to understand what pneumonia is, it is vital to learn about the basic functions of the lungs.
Everyone has 2 lungs – the right and the left. Each lung is divided into small sections known as lobes. The left lung has only 2 lobes whereas the right lung has 3 lobes. On inhalation, air from the environment passes through the nose to the trachea, commonly known as the windpipe and enters the two main bronchi. From the bronchi, air enters to even smaller tubes known as bronchioles, finally reaching the air sacs or the alveoli.
Alveoli are like tiny balloons. They inflate when air enters into it (that is on inhalation) and deflate when air moves out (that is on exhalation). The alveoli are surrounded by capillaries – tiny blood vessels that carry deoxygenated blood (Blood with less oxygen and high carbon dioxide) from the heart. At this level, the oxygen within the alveoli diffuse into the blood and the carbon dioxide in the blood diffuse into the alveoli. While the blood travels back to the heart carrying oxygenated blood (blood with high oxygen and less carbon dioxide), the carbon dioxide within the alveoli is exhaled out.
This is the basic function of the lungs. The tubes that carry air to the lungs are lined by special cells, known as goblet cells that secrete mucus. The main function of these cells is to trap germs or dust particles that are inhaled in with air. These tubes are also lined by hair like structures known as cilia which have a waving action that constantly sweep out the trapped germ in the mucus layer towards the throat and are expelled out by coughing.
However, there are instances when some of these microorganisms find a way to escape this protective system and if the immune system is weak or is unable to fight off the microorganisms, disease occurs. As the microorganisms continue to multiply and increase in number, there is an inflammatory reaction triggered. This inflammation results in increased secretion of mucus. Not just that, the alveoli get filled with fluid, making breathing difficult and the body does not get the oxygen it requires as a result.
What organisms causes for pneumonia?
Pneumonia can be caused by viruses, bacteria and fungi.
Bacterial causes of pneumonia are:
- Streptococcus pneumoniae – commonest cause
- Chlamydophila pneumonia
- Legionella pneumophila
- Staphylococcus aureus
Viral causes of pneumonia are:
- Respiratory syncytial virus
- Influenza virus
- Varicella Zoster
Pneumonia can be also caused by non-infectious agents such as:
- Chemical fumes
- Toxic fumes
What are the signs and symptoms of pneumonia?
- Fever with chills
- A productive cough – As mentioned before, mucus secretion is increased as a result of the inflammatory reaction that occurs within the bronchi. As a result, the body develops a reflex i.e. is the cough to get rid of the excessive mucus from the airways.
- Difficulty in breathing – Visualize this for a minute – the alveoli are filled with fluid replacing the oxygen. What would happen? With less oxygen, you will find it difficult to breath.
- Muscle aches and pains
- Chest pain on breathing
How long is a person with pneumonia contagious?
Since pneumonia is caused by many infectious organisms, it can be a contagious disease. However if pneumonia is a result of non-infectious agents such as chemical fumes, then it is not a contagious disease.
Viruses and bacteria that are responsible for the illness can be transmitted from one person to another. However, pneumonia is not contagious throughout the illness – only during a certain time period.
Although pneumonia is contagious, not everyone exposed to the virus or the bacteria gets the disease. Some may not show any symptoms at all whereas another group of people may just develop a common cold and resolve spontaneously over time.
There are certain risk factors that will make a person more prone to develop pneumonia and some of them include:
- Those with a weakened immune system such as people on chemotherapeutic or drugs or radiotherapy.
- Children less than 5 years old
- Elderly people over 65 years
- Those with the presence of a pre-existing medical condition asthma, AIDS, cancer or removed spleen.
How can you avoid becoming infected?
Pneumonia is contagious and it can spread quickly from one person to another. So here are a few precautions to take to avoid becoming infected with pneumonia.
- Do not share utensils, food or glasses with anyone who is known to have pneumonia.
- Wash your hand regularly using anti-bacterial soap. Keep your hands clean, especially after touching an infected person or any contaminated object.
- Avoid smoking – The tobacco in smoke weakens the lungs and therefore reduces the ability to fight against infections.
- Take a healthy diet including all nutrients and vitamins. This will help you to strengthen the immune system.
- Exercise regularly as this will help to reduce the inflammation.
- Rest well and get adequate amount of sleep
- Remove yourself from any stressful events. Stress and anxiety affects the function of the immune system thus making you prone to more infections.
If you catch it, how can it be treated?
After taking a full history and complete physical examination, the health care professional will order further tests to confirm the diagnosis. They include:
- Full blood count – To confirm that there is an infection and to find out whether it is a viral or a bacterial infection.
- Blood culture can be done to check if the organism has entered the circulatory system.
- Chest X-ray – This is the single most important investigation needed to diagnose pneumonia.
- Sputum culture can be done to find out which organism has actually caused the infection. Knowing this is important as a more sensitive and specific antibiotic can be started on her.
Once the diagnosis of pneumonia is confirmed, it should be treated immediately. The treatment will depend on the underlying causative agent. If it is a bacterial pneumonia, the mainstay of treatment is the use of antibiotics. On the other hand, viral pneumonia usually does not need any treatment as it resolves on its own. However, sometimes antiviral therapy may be necessary.