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Pneumonia

Pneumonia is an infection in one or both of the lungs. Many germs, such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi, can cause pneumonia. You can also get pneumonia by inhaling a liquid or chemical. People most at risk are older than 65 or younger than 2 years of age, or already have health problems.

Symptoms of pneumonia vary from mild to severe. See your doctor promptly if you

  • Have a high fever
  • Have shaking chills
  • Have a cough with phlegm that doesn't improve or gets worse
  • Develop shortness of breath with normal daily activities
  • Have chest pain when you breathe or cough
  • Feel suddenly worse after a cold or the flu

Your doctor will use your medical history, a physical exam, and lab tests to diagnose pneumonia. Treatment depends on what kind you have. If bacteria are the cause, antibiotics should help. If you have viral pneumonia, your doctor may prescribe an antiviral medicine to treat it.

Preventing pneumonia is always better than treating it. Vaccines are available to prevent pneumococcal pneumonia and the flu. Other preventive measures include washing your hands frequently and not smoking.

NIH: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

Pneumocystis Infections

Pneumocystis jirovecii is a tiny fungus that lives in the lungs of many people. Most people's immune systems keep the fungus under control. But if you have a weakened immune system, the fungus can make you very sick.

The most common type of infection is pneumocystis pneumonia (PCP). PCP once was the major cause of death for people with HIV/AIDS. But now, it is possible to prevent or treat most cases. The key to surviving PCP is early treatment. The first signs of PCP are fever, dry cough, shortness of breath, and fatigue. If you have a weakened immune system and have these symptoms, see your doctor right away.

To diagnose PCP, doctors use a microscope to look for the fungus in a sample of lung fluid or tissue. Treatment is with antibiotics.

There is no vaccine to prevent PCP. Some people who are at high risk of getting PCP may need to take antibiotics to prevent it.

Legionnaires' Disease

Legionnaires' disease is a type of pneumonia caused by bacteria. You usually get it by breathing in mist from water that contains the bacteria. The mist may come from hot tubs, showers, or air-conditioning units for large buildings. The bacteria don't spread from person to person.

Symptoms of Legionnaires' disease include high fever, chills, a cough, and sometimes muscle aches and headaches. Other types of pneumonia have similar symptoms. You will probably need a chest x-ray to diagnose the pneumonia. Lab tests can detect the specific bacteria that cause Legionnaires' disease.

Most people exposed to the bacteria do not become sick. You are more likely to get sick if you

  • Are older than 50
  • Smoke
  • Have a chronic lung disease
  • Have a weak immune system

Legionnaires' disease is serious and can be life-threatening. However, most people recover with antibiotic treatment.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

HIV/AIDS and Infections

Having HIV/AIDS weakens your body's immune system. It destroys the white blood cells that fight infection. This puts you at risk for opportunistic infections (OIs). OIs are serious infections that take advantage of your weak immune system. These infections are less common and less severe in healthy people.

There are many types of OIs:

  • Bacterial infections, including tuberculosis and a serious related disease, Mycobacterium avium complex (MAC)
  • Viral infections, such as cytomegalovirus (CMV) and hepatitis C
  • Fungal infections, like yeast infections, cryptococcal meningitis, pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (PCP) and histoplasmosis
  • Parasitic infections, such as crypto (cryptosporidiosis) and toxo (toxoplasmosis)

Having HIV/AIDS can make infections harder to treat. People with HIV/AIDS are also more likely to have complications from common illnesses such as the flu.

You can help prevent infections by taking your HIV/AIDS medicines. Other things that can help include practicing safe sex, washing your hands well and often, and cooking your food thoroughly.

Infection Control

Every year, lives are lost because of the spread of infections in hospitals. Health care workers can take steps to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. These steps are part of infection control.

Proper hand washing is the most effective way to prevent the spread of infections in hospitals. If you are a patient, don't be afraid to remind friends, family and health care providers to wash their hands before getting close to you.

Other steps health care workers can take include

  • Covering coughs and sneezes
  • Staying up-to-date with immunizations
  • Using gloves, masks and protective clothing
  • Making tissues and hand cleaners available
  • Following hospital guidelines when dealing with blood or contaminated items