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Diseases A–Z


Bacterial pneumonia

What is bacterial pneumonia?

Pneumonia is a lung infection. Bacterial pneumonia is a lung infection caused by bacteria. The most common type of bacterial pneumonia is pneumococcal pneumonia.

Bacterial pneumonia usually affects an entire lobe of the lung; doctors call this lobar pneumonia. People of any age can get it.

Bacterial pneumonia often comes on during or after an upper respiratory infection, like the flu or a cold. You can't catch pneumonia by going outside with wet hair or wearing light clothing in winter.

Signs and symptoms of bacterial pneumonia

It's common for people with bacterial pneumonia to feel very sick. Symptoms tend to come on suddenly. The most common symptoms are:

  • a cough with rust or green-coloured phlegm (mucus)
  • high fever (temperature often shoots up as high as 41°C (105°F)
  • chills
  • teeth chattering
  • chest pain
  • fast breathing and heart beat
  • bluish lips and finger nails from lack of oxygen in the blood
  • feeling confused or strange
  • feeling very tired
Who's at risk of bacterial pneumonia?

People over 65 have the highest risk for bacterial pneumonia. Other groups with a higher risk are people over two years old who:

  • smoke
  • have a chronic (long-term) illness, for example heart or lung disease, diabetes, alcohol problems, cancer
  • live in a nursing home or other long-term care facility
  • have HIV or other conditions associated with a weakened immune system
  • are pregnant
Treatment for bacterial pneumonia

If you think you have pneumonia, call your doctor. If you have bacterial pneumonia your doctor will probably prescribe antibiotics (drugs that kill the germs that are causing the infection). In serious cases, you may need treatment in hospital. Hospital treatment may include:

  • intravenous (IV) fluids to prevent dehydration (fluids are given through a needle into a vein)
  • intravenous antibiotics (antibiotic medicine given through a needle into a vein)
  • special respiratory therapy (breathing treatments with oxygen)

Most people who need hospital care for pneumonia are babies or young children or people over 65.

What can I do at home to feel better?
  • If your doctor prescribes medicines like antibiotics make sure you take them as directed. It's important to take the full dose of medicine even if you feel better within a few days of starting them. Not taking the full dose can lead to antibiotic resistance (germs that can't be killed with regular antibiotic drugs). You can also get sick again.
  • Rest. Stay home from work or school until you feel better.
  • Drink lots of fluids — water, juice, herbal tea — to help thin mucus (phlegm) so you can cough it up more easily.
  • Use a humidifier to moisten the air in your room. Make sure to keep it clean — read the manufacturers' instructions for directions.
  • Take an over-the-counter pain reliever for fever and aches (for example, acetaminophen or ibuprofen). Never give acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin) to children or teens.
  • Don't take any medicines unless you check with your doctor first. Unless your doctor suggests it, don't take over-the-counter cough medicines. They likely won't help, and they might make your symptoms worse.
What can I expect if I have bacterial pneumonia?

With proper treatment, most people with bacterial pneumonia feel better within a week or two. But in serious cases, it may take longer to feel better. See your doctor if you are feeling worse or not getting better. Go to emergency if you have trouble breathing.

How to prevent bacterial pneumonia

The best way to prevent bacterial pneumonia is to get the pneumonia vaccine (pneumonia shot).

Two types of vaccines can prevent pneumococcal pneumonia: pneumococcal conjugate (PCV) or pneumococcal polysaccharide (PPV). The type of vaccine you get depends on your age.

Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) for babies and kids under 5

The pneumococcal conjugate vaccine is recommended for babies and children younger than two years of age and for children two to five years of age in certain situations. This vaccine is not recommended for anyone five years of age or older.

This vaccine protects children from four kinds of pneumococcal infection:

  • meningitis (brain infection)
  • bacteremia (bloodstream infection)
  • pneumonia (lung infection)
  • otitis media (middle ear infection)

Babies and toddlers should get four doses of the PCV pneumonia shot. They usually get the pneumonia shot when they are:

  • two months old
  • four months old
  • six months old, and
  • between 12-15 months old.

Learn about the pneumonia shot (pneumococcal vaccine) for kids, from The Canadian Paediatric Society.

Pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPV) for adults and some older kids

The pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPV) is usually recommended for:

  • all people 65 years of age and older
  • people age 5 - 64 who:
    • have a long-term lung disease, like asthma or COPD
    • have another long-term disease, like heart disease, kidney disease, cancer or HIV
    • do not have a spleen or have a damaged spleen (a spleen is an organ in the body that filters germs in the blood stream)
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