Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs that can be caused by a virus, bacteria, fungi, or parasites. Bacterial pneumonia often begins with bacteria that has colonized the nose and mouth and moves down into the lungs. Some of the most common bacteria associated with causing pneumonia include Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococcus pneumonia.
Bacterial pneumonia usually progresses fairly rapidly, with the first sign being a high fever and difficulty breathing. Other signs may include:
- Blue or grey fingertips or lips
- Rapid or shallow breathing
- Rapid pulse
- Chest pain or congestion
- A fever of 100 degrees or higher
- Chills or fatigue
- A wet or dry cough
- The presence of phlegm
- Abdominal pain or loss of appetite
It is important to note that the absence of a fever does not necessarily rule out pneumonia. Bacterial pneumonia can be present even without a fever.
Pneumonia can be diagnosed through a simple pediatrician clinic visit where your child’s symptoms and appearance are evaluated along with their breathing and other vital signs.
Although a clinical diagnosis can be made without an X-ray, a chest X-ray and blood tests are commonly ordered to confirm this diagnosis. A sputum culture can also be done (typically in a hospital setting) to determine the specific type of bacteria causing the infection in the lungs.
Bacterial pneumonia is most commonly treated with antibiotics. If your child’s doctor suspects bacterial pneumonia, a course of antibiotics (typically amoxicillin) may be prescribed to help combat the illness.
Most cases of bacterial pneumonia can be successfully treated at home with these oral antibiotics, but in some cases, a hospital visit or a brief stay may be required.
At home, regularly monitor your child’s temperature and other vital signs if possible. Ensure that your child gets lots of rest and drinks plenty of fluids. While a typical case of pneumonia will last about a week or two, so-called walking pneumonia may take several weeks to clear up.
Watch for signs of a more serious progression of the illness, including extreme shortness of breath and an unusually high fever that does not come down after a day or two. If needed, IV antibiotics and breathing treatments can be administered at the hospital.
While pneumonia itself isn’t contagious, the viruses or bacteria that can cause the infection are. The bacteria that can cause pneumonia can be spread through the air via droplets or through physical contact with infected surfaces. Young children and preschoolers are more susceptible due to close contact with other children at school and daycare, and more cases are generally seen in the wintertime.
The best way to prevent bacterial pneumonia is to practice proper hygiene and sanitation, especially when other members of your household are sick.
Routine childhood vaccines (such as the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine) can also help prevent pneumonia and other serious illnesses in your child.