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Pneumonia and COVID-19

Driving Healthcare Innovations

By Lahiru Rukshan on November 12th, 2020

Did you know that pneumonia was responsible for the deaths of more than 2 million people in 2017 worldwide? And a third of the deaths were that of children who are under 5 years of age.

Did you know that while pneumonia related deaths in children are declining that of adults and senior citizens remain the same?

Did you know that Pneumonia and Covid-19 distresses the same organ?

Did you know that Pneumonia can develop as a result of Covid-19 infection?

It is 2020 and the world is facing an unstoppable pandemic of great proportions in the form of Covid-19. To make matters worse, Covid-19 infects and distresses the lungs to such an extent that Covid related deaths have surpassed any other disease related deaths. Those suffering from pneumonia were the first to be affected and now, the most affected. Patients who have recovered from Covid-19 induced pneumonia (as opposed to regular pneumonia) have taken a longer period to get their lungs back into original shape. 

So what is Pneumonia?

Pneumonia is caused when the tiny air sacs in the lungs (alveoli) are infected by a virus, bacteria or fungus, causing these tiny air sacs to be filled with pus and fluid. This causes breathing difficulties which in turn leads to a reduction in oxygen intake.

Pneumonia has been around since the dawn of animal life. But it has been on a steady decline since the 90s and has mostly affected countries with poor air quality. 

Is Pneumonia contagious?

Yes, and no. People have to be very close to one and another for a prolonged period of time for pneumonia to be transmitted through water droplets in the air. Hence why populations in middle and low income nations are the most vulnerable.

What are the symptoms?

  • Pain during breathing or coughing.
  • Changes in mental awareness such as confusion (adults over 65).
  • Nausea and sometimes vomiting.
  • Having a cough for a prolonged period with phlegm.
  • Fatigue and shortness of breath.
  • Fever, perspiration and chills.
  • Lower than normal body temperature (adults over 65 and those with weak immune systems).

Who is at risk?

  • Those who are in a hospital setting receiving treatment especially on a ventilator (Covid-19, Kidney dialysis, etc.).
  • Smokers with weakening immune systems.
  • Patients with chronic diseases such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or heart disease.
  • Temporarily weakened immune systems due to HIV/AIDS, chemotherapy, and organ transplants.

Are there any issues after treatment?

Even with treatment, those in certain high-risk groups (elderly, children & Covid-19 survivors) may develop complications. For instance, bacteria in the lungs may enter the bloodstream and cause infections in the other organs that may lead to organ failure. There is also the need to drain the fluid around the lungs if they get infected. In some cases, the use of a breathing machine (ventilator) is mandatory as the lung heals.

How to prevent pneumonia?

  • Get vaccinated and get booster vaccinations.
  • Be hygienic and keep your immune system in shape by following a healthy lifestyle.
  • Stop smoking and avoid being around other smokers.
  • Keep yourself educated on pneumonia causing surroundings and avoid them.

How can technology help fight Pneumonia?

The quickest way to identify pneumonia is based on the sound of the cough or lungs. With the surge in low cost smart devices such as smartphones and tablets, home based diagnostic tools are being built as we speak.

  • Australian technology company ResApp aims to develop a smartphone app that will record the sound of the cough, transmit it to a doctor, and receive a diagnosis then and there.
  • Another device currently being developed in Peru hopes to capture the sound of the lungs (similar to a stethoscope) as opposed to the cough and have the captured lung sounds analyzed through a series of complex algorithm to provide an accurate diagnosis.


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