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Pneumonia is a common lung infection where the lungs’ air sacks become inflamed. These sacs may also fill with fluid, pus, and cellular debris. It can be caused by viruses, fungi, or bacteria. This article is about pneumonia caused by bacteria.
Bacterial pneumonia may involve just one small section of your lung, or it may encompass your entire lung. Pneumonia can make it difficult for your body to get enough oxygen to your blood, which can cause cells to not work properly.
Bacterial pneumonia can be mild or serious. The severity of your pneumonia depends on:
The most common symptoms of bacterial pneumonia are:
Other symptoms that may follow include:
Older adults will share all the symptoms with younger adults, but are much more likely to experience confusion and dizziness. Older adults may also be less likely to have a fever.
Pneumonia can be particularly dangerous for infants, children, and toddlers. They may display similar symptoms to the ones above. In infants, difficulty breathing may show up as flaring nostrils or chest sinking when breathing. They may also exhibit blueish lips or nails, which indicates that they aren’t getting enough oxygen.
Seek immediate medical attention if you are experiencing:
Bacteria pneumonia is caused by bacteria that works its way into the lungs and then multiplies. It can occur on its own or develop after another illness, like a cold or the flu. People who have a higher risk for pneumonia may:
Doctors classify bacterial pneumonia based on whether it developed inside or outside a hospital.
Community-acquired pneumonia (CAP): This is the most common type of bacterial pneumonia. CAP occurs when you get an infection after exposure to bacterial agents outside of a healthcare setting. You can get CAP by breathing in respiratory droplets from coughs or sneezes, or by skin-to-skin contact.
Hospital-acquired pneumonia (HAP): HAP occurs within two to three days of exposure to germs in a medical setting, such as a hospital or doctor’s office. This is also called a "nosocomial infection." This type of pneumonia is often more resistant to antibiotics and more is difficult to treat than CAP.
Streptococcus pneumonia is the leading cause of bacterial pneumonia. It can enter your lungs through inhalation or through your bloodstream. There is a vaccination for this type.
Haemophilus influenzae is the second most common cause of bacterial pneumonia. This bacterium may live in your upper respiratory tract. It doesn’t usually cause harm or illness unless you have a weakened immune system.
Other bacteria that can cause pneumonia include:
People who have these conditions may be at an increased risk for pneumonia:
People over the age of 65 and children 2 and younger are also at a higher risk for developing pneumonia. Make an appointment with your doctor if you or someone you know has symptoms of pneumonia. Pneumonia for this group can be life-threatening.
The two most common causes of pneumonia are bacteria and viruses. The flu is one of the most common causes of viral pneumonia in adults, though post-flu complications can also cause bacterial pneumonia.
|Viral pneumonia||Bacterial pneumonia|
|Who?||most likely to affect healthy people with strong immune systems||more likely to affect someone with a lowered immune system, or someone who is recovering from a respiratory infection|
|Treatment||antibiotics don’t work||antibiotics may be prescribed|
|Outlook||can be severe and fatal||may be more aggressive and difficult to treat|
In bacterial pneumonia, there will likely be a much more visible presence of fluid in the lungs than viral pneumonia. Bacterial pneumonia is also more likely to enter the blood stream and infect other parts of the body.
To diagnose bacterial pneumonia, your doctor will:
Most cases can be treated at home, with medications, to prevent complications from a hospital setting. A healthy person may recover within one to three weeks. Someone with a weakened immune system may take longer before they feel normal again.
Some cases of bacterial pneumonia will require hospitalization for treatment. Young children and the elderly are more likely to need to go to the hospital to receive intravenous antibiotics, medical care and respiratory therapy.
In the hospital, you’ll be given antibiotics to treat the specific type of bacteria causing your pneumonia. This will likely be given intravenously, along with fluids to prevent dehydration.
Without treatment, pneumonia may develop into:
Bacterial pneumonia itself is not contagious, but the infection that caused bacterial pneumonia is contagious. It can spread through coughs, sneezes, and contamination on objects. Practicing good hygiene can help prevent the spread of pneumonia or the risk of catching it.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also recommends a pneumonia vaccine for infants, young children, and adults age 65 and older.
Written by: Cynthia Chase, Marijane Leonard, and Ana Gotter
Medically reviewed on: Mar 17, 2017: Debra Sullivan, PhD, MSN, CNE, COI
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