5 pneumonia myths busted

Pneumonia is often misunderstood. Know the facts about this serious disease.

29 July 2015
by Rebekah Kendal

Pneumonia is a disease that involves the inflammation of the alveoli – the air sacs in the lungs where oxygen and carbon dioxide are exchanged. As a result of this, fluid or pus can accumulate in the alveoli, making it difficult to breathe and limiting the intake of oxygen. It can lead to serious complications and even death. 

We debunk five common myths so that you stay in the know…

Myth 1: Pneumonia isn't really a serious disease.

Pneumonia is the single largest infectious cause of death in children worldwide, according to the World Health Organisation. It accounts for 15 percent of all deaths of children under the age of five, and it killed an estimated 935 000 children in 2013.

Contrary to popular belief, it's not just a really bad version of a cold. Although pneumonia can be quite easily treated, Dr Rosie Carey, a Durban-based general practitioner, points out that you can die if you do not seek the necessary treatment.

Myth 2: You can always treat pneumonia with antibiotics.

According to Dr Carey, treatment depends entirely on the cause of the pneumonia. "Only bacterial pneumonia can be treated with antibiotics," explains Dr Carey. "You can also get a viral pneumonia and the other, rarer pneumonias such as fungal pneumonia." These will need other treatements such as antiviral medication.

Pneumonia can even be caused by harmful chemicals or a trauma such as a car accident. The most common causes of pneumonia are streptococcus pneumoniae, Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) and respiratory syncytial virus. South Africa routinely vaccinates against Hib, pertussis (which sometimes results in pneumonia), and pneumococcal disease.

Myth 3: A diagnosis of "double pneumonia" automatically means it's more severe.

The words “single” and “double” before the word pneumonia doesn't refer to severity as such, but rather location. "Double pneumonia means two lobes are involved and single pneumonia means one lobe is involved," explains Dr Carey. "Usually it is more serious if two lobes are involved, but there are multiple other factors that play a role."

Myth 4: Getting cold and wet will give you pneumonia.

At some point in your life, your mum or granny probably told you to wrap up warmly and stay out of the rain lest you catch pneumonia. Although this theory has no scientific basis, rate of transmission does increase in winter. ,"Pneumonia is more common in winter, not because of the cold, but because people tend to spend more time indoors in poorly ventilated areas," says Dr Carey.

Myth 5: Pneumonia only affects certain groups of people.

Obviously you are more susceptible to pneumonia if you are unhealthy or smoke, says Dr Carey, but anyone can develop pneumonia. However, groups at greater risk include children under the age of five, the elderly, smokers, those with compromised immune systems and those who live in crowded and poorly ventilated homes.

How Clicks Clinics can help you

To book an appointment for a pneumococcal vaccine at your nearest Clicks Clinics, call 0860 254 257 or visit Clicks Clinics online.

IMAGE CREDIT: 123rf.com