Respiratory doctor warns of 'desperate need' to improve pneumonia awareness

Ben MarshallA leading respiratory doctor has warned of the “desperate need” to improve understanding of the symptoms of pneumonia and when to seek medical help.

Dr Ben Marshall, a consultant in respiratory medicine at Southampton General Hospital, said many people confuse the condition – which is responsible for 50,000 adult deaths in the UK every year – with respiratory virus infections such as the common cold.

He spoke out ahead of World Pneumonia Day tomorrow (Thursday), which aims to raise awareness of the illness and highlight what people can do to stay healthy and avoid a hospital admission, and the launch of national campaign Expect the Unexpected.

“The symptoms of the onset of pneumonia – a productive cough, fever and shortness of breath – are similar to a very bad winter cold and that means people can be misled into believing it is nothing more than that,” explained Dr Marshall.

“However, pneumonia is an infection which requires antibiotics and, in some cases depending on the susceptibility of certain patients, admission to hospital for treatment and observation.”

Pneumonia affects around one in 100 adults in the UK every year – although it can affect people of any age – and is one of the most common causes of death due to infection among men and women.

Those at increased risk include babies, the elderly, people with medical problems such as chronic lung, heart or kidney problems, smokers or those with a weakened immune system.

It develops as a result of bacterial, viral or fungal infections which cause clusters of tiny air sacs in the lungs to fill with fluid and become inflamed. The most common infectious cause is pneumococcal infection triggered by the bacteria streptococcus pneumoniae.

Dr Marshall said: “There is a desperate need to improve public understanding of pneumonia, particularly among those who are at increased risk, as a lack of awareness can very easily and very quickly lead to serious complications for those affected.

“It is a fierce infection which, if left untreated or inadequately treated, can scar the lungs and leave sufferers prone to further infection or become life-threatening.”

He added the most effective ways to prevent the illness include good hygiene and a healthy lifestyle – and he urged those in high risk groups to have a vaccine which protects against pneumococcal infections and to receive the annual flu jab, both available through their GPs.

“It is important for everyone to take some time to understand the risks, know the symptoms and take the necessary precautions to protect themselves,” he said.

“If people do that, we will really be able to take the fight to this infection and start to drive down the number of deaths and hospital admissions we are currently witnessing.”

Posted on Wednesday 11 November 2015