Pneumonia Types Bacterial

Pneumonia is the leading cause of death by infection in America, killing approximately 60,000 Americans every year. Bacterial pneumonia, only one variety of pneumonia, is particularly dangerous because bacterial infections in infants, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems can cause serious complications or even death.

Bacterial Pneumonia Causes

Bacterial pneumonia, as the name implies, results from a bacterial infection in the lungs. Along with bacteria, pneumonia may also be caused by viral agents, fungus and other organisms.

People come into contact with bacteria capable of causing pneumonia all the time, either by touching items contaminated with bacteria or breathing in infected air droplets spread by people with bacterial pneumonia. For most, the lungs’ natural defenses neutralize bacterial threats.

Bacterial pneumonia often develops in people with weakened the immune systems, such as those who have just had the flu or continue to suffer from another disease. If the immune system is weakened considerably, bacterial pneumonia can occur after a minor ailment such as the common cold.

While many different types of bacteria can cause bacterial pneumonia, Streptococcus pneumoniae is the most common culprit of these infections. Other types of bacteria that may develop into bacterial pneumonia include:

  • Chlamydia trachomatis
  • Haemophilus influenzae
  • Legionella pneumophilia
  • Mycoplasma pneumoniae.

Symptoms of Bacterial Pneumonia

Bacterial pneumonia symptoms tend to develop quickly. Common symptoms of include:

  • chills
  • clammy skin
  • fatigue
  • headaches
  • high fever
  • loss of appetite
  • shallow breathing
  • shortness of breath
  • sharp/stabbing chest pain
  • sweating
  • phlegm-producing cough
  • thick green or yellow phlegm.

Confusion is also possible symptom, especially for the elderly.

In contrast to bacterial pneumonia symptoms, viral pneumonia symptoms often begin with flu-like symptoms and a dry cough. As viral pneumonia develops, coughing eventually produces limited white or clear phlegm.

Risk Factors for Bacterial Pneumonia

Contrary to what moms the world over tell their children, you won’t catch pneumonia if you get soaked in a rainstorm or rush out without your coat. Anyone can catch bacterial pneumonia under the wrong set of circumstances.

Bacterial pneumonia in infants and young children is not as common as viral pneumonia tends to be: While younger children may come into contact with bacteria that cause them to develop bacterial pneumonia, contagious viruses are more likely to cause infants and children to contract viral pneumonia. Bacterial pneumonia tends to be more common in children after they reach school age.

Cigarette smoke damages the lungs’ ability to remove debris and secretions, increasing the risk of bacterial infection and subsequent pneumonia. Alcohol abuse is also a risk factor for pneumonia.

The elderly and people with compromised immune systems have the highest risk of bacterial pneumonia infection. Hospital patients also have a greater than normal risk of bacterial infection, as patients’ immune systems are often weakened by the condition that required hospitalization.

Bacterial Pneumonia in Infants

Bacterial pneumonia in infants is a serious condition. Globally, pneumonia is the second leading cause of death in children under the age of five. Symptoms of bacterial pneumonia in infants differ slightly from adults and can include:

  • chest pain
  • chest retractions
  • high fever
  • grunting while breathing
  • increased breathing rate
  • irritability
  • poor feeding
  • vomiting.

Bacterial Pneumonia Complications

Bacterial pneumonia can cause serious health complications, especially among people with a higher risk of developing this condition. Some bacterial pneumonia complications may include:

  • Blood infections: Bacteria that cause pneumonia can infect the blood, causing a condition called bacteremia. Bacteremia can infect other organs and, therefore, is a medical emergency.
  • Fluid buildup: Bacterial infections can also cause fluid to build up between the lungs and the pleurae (the membrane that lines the inner chest). If bacteria infects this accumulated fluid, a condition known as empyema, a tube must be inserted between the ribs to drain the infected fluid.
  • Lung inflammation: While slightly swollen lungs can make breathing difficult, severe lung inflammation prevents sufficient oxygen exchange between the lungs and blood.

Bacterial Pneumonia Treatment

Because bacterial pneumonia can be fatal, immediate medical care and antibiotic treatment is essential. Attempting to self-treat bacterial pneumonia is highly discouraged, given the aggressive nature of the disease.

Antibiotics are the best treatment for bacterial pneumonia. If you are prescribed antibiotics, it is very important to complete the course of medication. Individuals often feel better before finishing antibiotic treatment and stop taking their medication.

However, keep in mind that, just because you feel better, doesn’t mean that all infectious agents have been removed from your system. Cutting antibiotic treatment short often results in the resurgence of the disease.

Failing to complete a course of antibiotics also increases the risk of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacterial pneumonia. Strains that are resistant to common antibiotics are increasingly common, and their continued growth is a major medical concern.

In cases of severe bacterial pneumonia, mechanical ventilation devices can assist breathing. Mechanical ventilation may also treat cases of bacterial pneumonia when emphysema or another pre-existing respiratory disorders are factors.


Kacprowicz, R. (updated January 25, 2008). Bacterial pneumonia. Retrieved March 20, 2008, from the eMedicine Health Web site.

Lakshmi, V. (updated March 23, 2006). Pediatrics, Pneumonia. Retreived March 24, 2008, from the eMedicine Web site.

Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and research (May 10, 2007). Pneumonia. Retrieved March 20, 2008, from the Mayo Clinic Web site.

U.S. National Library of Medicine (updated March 8, 2007). Pneumonia. Retrieved March 20, 2008, from the Medline Plus Web site.