Pneumonia in the rainy season in Thailand

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by Dr Picheth Charoensiriwath
Thailand's rainy season usually runs from July to October. Although the days remain hot, the rain tends to start in the late afternoon and evenings, affecting many workers as they leave the office.

Constant rain in Thailand means the air is more humid, increasing the chance for illnesses. The one disease that everyone should be wary of is pneumonia, which is all too common during the rainy season.

WHAT ARE PNEUMONIA AND IPD?

Pneumonia is an infection of one or both lungs which is usually caused by bacteria, viruses or fungi. The bacteria called Streptococcus pneumoniae are the cause of Invasive Pneumococcal Infections (IPD), of which pneumonia is the most common. Other IPD diseases include sepsis, sinusitis, otitis, meningitis and infections of the blood.

Infection within the bloodstream not only produces toxins but also causes damage to the brain and other internal organs. Especially in young children, sepsis can cause seizures, kidney failure or liver dysfunction. In extreme cases, a child can stop breathing. Children with meningitis also experience seizures, brain damage, liver or heart malfunction.

HOW SERIOUS IS PNEUMONIA?

People suffering from pneumonia display physical signs such as clammy skin, shortage of breath, and their faces may turn very pale. Other primary symptoms can also include fever (sometimes as high as 104 Celsius), cough, phlegm, chills and shaking. The seriousness of pneumonia depends on each case's clinical characteristics, which can be either acute or chronic. Pneumonia is highly contagious and can be fatal if left untreated.

HOW CAN PNEUMONIA BE TREATED?

Checking chest movement and breathing can help detect the first signs of pneumonia. Each person's symptoms determine the cause of pneumonia, which then determines the kind of treatment that should be given. The appropriate treatment is dependent upon risk factors such as age, the type of pneumonia, and the person's underlying health, respectively. Treatment for pneumonia should never be overlooked due to the weakness it causes to the body's immune system.

In severe cases, patients should be admitted to the hospital and receive monitored treatment. In less severe cases, patients can be treated with antibiotics. Fortunately, with the discovery of many potent antibiotics, most cases of pneumonia can be successfully treated. In fact, pneumonia can usually be treated with oral antibiotics without the need for hospitalisation since the nature of the human body can nullify the illness. Therefore, some patients can recover at home by following certain procedures depending on the advice of their doctor. Drink plenty of fluids and get lots of rest.

Children aged four and under require immediate treatment infected.

RISKS

The risks of infection can occur in all age groups, but pneumonia is particularly common among children, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems. Other risk factors include smoking, drinking, or having the flu and are more common in adult patients. In some cases, pneumonia can become a side effect of other illnesses such as diabetes and asthma.

PROTECTION

You can take precautions against pneumonia by doing the basics correctly. It is essential for you to maintain good hygiene, especially in your own place of residence. Your hands make the most constant contact with germs, which can lead to you contracting the disease. So wash your hands often and thoroughly, thereby reducing the risk of infection. If you cough or sneeze, make sure you have a tissue or a handkerchief in hand. Wearing a surgical mask can help too.

Try to keep others from getting infected as well. A patient with pneumonia should be kept separate from anyone with a compromised immune system. Getting yourself vaccinated is also important. The pneumonia vaccine is available and given as a precaution for other diseases caused by the pneumococcus bacteria. If you are suffering from the flu, make sure you get yourself checked and get plenty of rest. Most importantly, try and build up your immune system through exercise and healthy living.

Dr Picheth Charoensiriwath is a specialist in Pulmonary and Pulmonary Critical Care at Samitivej Sukhumvit Hospital in Bangkok.