Do not underestimate the disease: pneumonia can be fatal
With symptoms such as cough, fever and fatigue, almost everyone thinks of a respiratory infection at first, but not pneumonia. This is exactly the tricky thing about the disease, which is why it is often not recognized. This is dangerous because pneumonia can also be fatal. Experts explain how to prevent.
A neglected danger
According to health experts, pneumonia is still a neglected danger. This can partly be explained by the fact that many people tend to think of a respiratory infection, but not necessarily pneumonia, when they have symptoms such as cough, fever or fatigue. If the symptoms described are accompanied by chills or the cough is accompanied by a purulent or even bloody expectoration, a doctor should be consulted quickly. Because all of these are signs of pneumonia.
Every year around 750,000 Germans develop pneumonia
"According to our estimates, 800,000 patients fall ill with pneumonia nationwide every year, and around 75,000 people die from it," explained Professor Dr. Tobias Welte, director of the pneumology department at the Hannover Medical School (MHH), released a press release years ago. The expert is now assuming a somewhat lower number.
According to this, around 750,000 people in Germany develop pneumonia every year. Other experts estimate the deaths from pneumonia in Germany to be around 35,000 a year. Pneumonia is the most common fatal infectious disease in Western Europe.
People with weakened immune systems are particularly at risk
In a message from the dpa news agency, Prof. Tobias Welte explained: "People with a weakened immune system are particularly at risk of developing pneumonia."
In many cases, it is preceded by an infection in the neck and throat area. "Pneumonia is largely triggered by bacteria, such as pneumococci, but also occasionally by viruses or other pathogens," says Welte.
Transmission by droplet infection
The causative agents of bacterial pneumonia are transmitted in most cases by droplet infection - when speaking, coughing or sneezing. However, not every pathogen automatically leads to pneumonia.
According to the Ulm internist for pulmonary and bronchial medicine Michael Barczok from the Federal Association of Pneumologists, Sleeping and Respiratory Medicine, it depends on how resilient the immune system is.
When the disease breaks out, the alveoli and sometimes the lung tissue are inflamed and swollen. The doctor can use a blood test and X-rays of the lungs to determine whether pneumonia is indeed present.
Adhere to the doctor's therapy plan
Pneumonia caused by bacteria is primarily treated with antibiotics. If there is no improvement within 24 hours after taking the preparation, the patient is usually prescribed other antibiotics.
"As a rule, the antibiotics must be taken for five to seven days, depending on the doctor's prescription," explained Ursula Sellerberg of the Federal Chamber of Pharmacists in the dpa report.
The doctor's therapy plan must be strictly adhered to, antibiotics should never be discontinued too early, even if the symptoms have subsided. "If you miss the medication too soon, you risk relapse," warned Sellerberg.
Cortisone for pneumonia
Also of interest in this context are findings that have emerged from long-term studies at Swiss hospitals. According to this, cortisone should help against pneumonia.
The scientists reported in the journal "The Lancet" that pneumonia heals faster when antibiotics are supplemented with cortisone during therapy. When published last year, the researchers believed that their study would "change the treatment of pneumonia worldwide."
A pneumonia caused by viruses, however, cannot be influenced with medication. Here the therapy is limited to the relief of the symptoms. To prevent pneumonia, according to health experts, one should be vaccinated against pneumococci, the most common cause of bacterial pneumonia.
This protective measure is also highlighted in the revised vaccination recommendations of the Standing Vaccination Commission at the Robert Koch Institute (STIKO). In a communication from the RKI it says: "Pneumococci are the main cause of bacterial pneumonia in Europe. The STIKO estimates that more than 5,000 people in Germany die every year from the consequences of pneumococcal disease."
Prof. Welte explained: "This vaccination is recommended above all to people over 60, chronically ill and children up to the age of two." It is fundamentally important to strengthen the immune system. One of the things you should eat healthy - with lots of fruit and vegetables - is to exercise regularly and stop smoking. (ad)