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How to Prevent Respiratory Infections

Any infection that makes it difficult to breathe is no laughing matter. You may be able to prevent most respiratory infections by taking some simple precautions, but some might require more proactive measures. Follow the tips here and you'll be breathing easier for years to come. This article discusses bronchitis, Legionnaires' disease, pneumonia, sinusitis, and tuberculosis. Here's a preview:

  • Preventing BronchitisWhen the lining of your bronchial tubes comes into contact with a virus, bacteria, or irritating pollutant, it becomes inflamed. Bronchitis symptoms can include a mild fever, fatigue, shortness of breath, and a cough that brings up yellow or green mucus. Bronchitis often shows up three or four days after you've recovered from a cold or flu.
  • Preventing Legionnaires' DiseaseLegionnaires' disease is a form of pneumonia that is resistant to some antibiotics. It was named after an outbreak at a Philadelphia hotel during an American Legion convention in 1976. Symptoms of Legionnaire's disease can include fever, chills, cough, muscle aches, headache, fatigue, chest pain, and sometimes nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
  • Preventing PneumoniaPneumonia is most often caused by a virus, but it can also be the result of bacteria, mycoplasmas, fungi, and even certain chemicals. During a pneumonia infection, the lung tissue becomes inflamed and the air sacs fill with fluid. A pneumonia vaccine is now available and is effective in 80 percent of healthy adults.
  • Preventing SinusitisSinusitis most often flares up when you've had a stuffy nose as a result of a cold or allergies. Your sinuses get infected and then swell and build up additional mucus. In addition to a stuffy nose, sinusitis symptoms can include sinus tenderness, yellow or green nasal and postnasal drainage, headache, cough, fever, and bad breath.
  • Preventing TuberculosisTuberculosis is a very serious infection, but only 10 percent of people who are infected with tuberculosis develop active tuberculosis. In active tuberculosis cases, bacteria can attack any organ in your body, causing a long-lasting (sometimes bloody) cough, chest pain, fatigue, fever, weight loss, and drenching night sweats.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Preventing Bronchitis

©2006 Publications International, Ltd. During a bronchitis infection, the bronchial tubes, which carry air to the lungs, become inflamed.

Viruses, most likely the same ones that cause a cold or the flu, cause 90 percent of bronchitis infections. Bacteria and pollutants (including smoke and chemicals) are also to blame.

Bronchitis Infection Information

The bronchial tubes carry air to the lungs. When their lining comes in contact with a virus or irritant, it gets inflamed, prompting special cells to produce mucus. Along with a cough that brings up yellow or green mucus, bronchitis can cause a low fever, fatigue, wheezing, chest congestion and pain, shortness of breath, and a sore throat. For bacterial cases of bronchitis, your doctor will probably prescribe an antibiotic. Chronic (long-term) cases might require steroids to reduce inflammation. Many people show symptoms of bronchitis about three to four days after having a cold or the flu.

With viral cases of acute (short-term) bronchitis, treating the symptoms and being patient are your best bets for recovery. Most people recover from bronchitis in two or three weeks, but the nagging cough may stick around longer.

Who's at Risk for Bronchitis?

Infants; young children; the elderly; smokers; those with health issues, such as lung or heart disease, cystic fibrosis, and asthma; and those exposed to pollutants on a regular basis are at greatest risk of developing acute bronchitis.

Defensive Measures Against Bronchitis

The best way to avoid bronchitis is to steer clear of colds and the flu (another reason to get a flu vaccination every year). Otherwise, don't smoke and try to limit your exposure to secondhand smoke. Smoke irritates your bronchial tubes and makes you less resistant to bronchitis-causing viruses. Also, stay away from airborne irritants. If the air quality is particularly low, make plans to spend the day inside, and wear a mask if you'll be working around potentially lung-troubling irritants, such as paint, dust, or other chemicals.

Legionnaires' disease is a serious form of pneumonia that does not respond to penicillin. Keep reading to learn more about this respiratory infection.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Preventing Legionnaires' Disease

The Legionella pneumophila bacterium causes Legionnaires' disease, an "atypical," but serious, form of pneumonia. "Typical" pneumonia caused by pneumococcus (Streptococcus pneumoniae) is typical because it responds well to penicillin but not as well to tetracycline, whereas "atypical" pneumonias respond to tetracycline but not at all to penicillin.

Legionnaires' Disease Infection Information

You can contract Legionnaires' disease by inhaling water droplets that contain the disease-causing bacteria. The bacteria can be spread through showers, hot tubs, whirlpools, cooling towers, hot water tanks, and the air-conditioning systems of large buildings. L. pneumophila is not transmitted person to person. The disease     was named after a large outbreak at a Philadelphia hotel during an American Legion convention in 1976.

The disease causes fever, chills, cough, muscle aches, headache, fatigue, chest pain, and sometimes nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. These symptoms appear two to 14 days after exposure to L. pneumophila. The disease is best treated with certain antibiotics (not penicillin), and most people recover with no complications; however, in its most serious form, especially in those who already have lung disease, it can be fatal. Pontiac fever is a milder form of Legionnaires' disease that comes with flulike symptoms that appear about three to five days after exposure. It usually clears up on its own.

Who's at Risk for Legionnaires' Disease?

People who are most susceptible are the elderly and those who smoke, have lung disease, or have impaired immune systems.

Defensive Measures Against Legionnaires' Disease

Protecting yourself can be difficult because Legionnaires' disease is spread through the environment and not from person to person, but there are preventive steps you can take:

  • Demand diligent disinfecting. Taking steps to kill the bacteria before it has a chance to contaminate the water is essential. If you use the shower or whirlpool at a gym or other water-sharing facility and see signs the water or faucets are dirty, tell someone. L. pneumophila thrives and grows in stagnant water.
  • Learn a little history. If you're planning a stay in a hotel or on a cruise ship (another potential hotbed for Legionnaires' disease outbreaks), ask if there have been any recent pneumonialike illnesses reported. Also ask how the air-conditioning system is maintained and how often it is cleaned (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration recommends twice-yearly cleanings of large systems).
  • Don't smoke. Smokers are more likely to get lung infections such as Legionnaires' disease.

During a pneumonia infection, the lung tissue in one or both lungs becomes inflamed and the microscopic air sacs fill with fluid. Go to the next page to learn more about this respiratory infection.This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Preventing Pneumonia

©2006 Publications International, Ltd. Pneumonia symptoms can include an intense cough, fever, chills, and fatigue.

Pneumonia has many causes -- viruses, bacteria (most commonly Streptococcus pneumoniae), mycoplasmas (disease-spreading bacteria that are smaller than, and lack the cell walls of, typical bacteria), fungi, and even certain chemicals. According to the American Lung Association, viruses are to blame for half of all pneumonia cases.

Pneumonia Infection Information

Pneumonia is an infection that settles in one or both lungs. The lung tissue becomes inflamed and the microscopic air sacs fill with fluid. The combination of swelling and fluid can hinder the movement of oxygen into the bloodstream. Symptoms vary from mild to serious depending on the type of pneumonia contracted, but basic symptoms include an intense cough, fever, chills, and fatigue. Some types of pneumonia mimic a cold and include muscle aches, sore throat, and a headache. In more serious cases, pneumonia can cause chest pain, a racing pulse, and breathlessness.

As many as 70 percent of people have pneumonia-causing bacteria in their throats at any given time, but their healthy immune systems fight off the bacteria before they reach the lungs. However, when a person's immune system is not at its best, such as when combating a cold or the flu, the body may not be able to prevent a pneumonia-causing invader from reaching the lungs.

Viruses usually cause milder forms of pneumonia than bacteria do. A viral pneumonia will make you feel icky, but it should clear up on its own within a week or two. However, because pneumonia affects your lungs, no case should be ignored. The best course of action is the same as for the flu -- get plenty of rest, drink fluids, and take steamy showers to loosen up the gunk in your lungs. You can also manage your fever, aches and pains, and cough with over-the-counter medicines. Bacterial pneumonias can be much more serious and can lead to long-term complications, but fortunately, they usually can be successfully treated with antibiotics.

No matter the cause, pneumonia is a serious infection, even with prompt medical treatment. According to the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, pneumonia killed almost 65,000 people in the United States in 2002 (the last year for which statistics were available).

Who's at Risk for Pneumonia?

People with weaker-than-normal immune systems are at greatest risk of contracting pneumonia. This includes children younger than 2 years; those 65 and older; and people with chronic health conditions, such as lung or heart disease, sickle cell anemia, or diabetes. People fighting cancer or AIDS are also at high risk. Hospitalized people, especially those in an intensive care unit and/or on a ventilator, and those who live in nursing homes are at a much greater risk for developing hospital-acquired pneumonia. Smokers are also more susceptible to developing pneumonia.

Defensive Measures Against Pneumonia

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is the best way to prevent pneumonia. That includes getting a flu vaccination each year, because the flu is a common precursor to pneumonia, as well as not smoking, eating a healthy diet, and getting plenty of exercise and rest. These actions will boost your immune system and keep your cold or flu from turning into something much more serious.

There is a vaccine available that fights off the bacteria-based pneumococcal pneumonia. This vaccine is effective in 80 percent of healthy adults and certainly helps high-risk groups lower their odds of developing pneumonia. If you are at high risk, or if you have a baby younger than 23 months, you should speak with your physician about this vaccine and the new pneumococcal vaccine for young children.

Sinusitis usually stems from a stuffy nose and can be caused by bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Go to the next page to learn more about sinusitis.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Preventing Sinusitis

©2006 Publications International, Ltd. Sinusitis sufferers can experience headache, cough, fever, bad breath, and other cold-like symptoms.

Bacteria, viruses (often from a cold), and fungi can all cause a sinus infection. This infection can cause tremendous pain in the sinuses.

Sinusitis Infection Information

Sinusitis usually stems from a stuffy nose that is due to a cold or allergies. When the nose isn't draining as it should, mucus builds up and clogs the sinuses, providing a breeding ground for bacteria, viruses, and fungi. When your sinuses get infected, they swell and additional mucus builds up, making you miserable. Because symptoms of a cold and sinusitis are so similar, physicians will normally diagnose sinusitis only if your stuffy head lasts more than seven days.

Along with a runny, stuffed-up nose, sinusitis sufferers may also have tenderness in the area of the infected sinus (there are eight sinus pockets located behind the eyes and nose), yellow or green nasal and postnasal drainage, headache, cough, fever, and bad breath. Sinusitis can clear up without medication, but if the cause is bacterial, your physician might prescribe an antibiotic to speed healing.

Who's at Risk for Sinusitis?

Anyone who gets a cold or the flu is at risk for a sinus infection. Smokers, those with asthma and allergies, people with weakened immune systems, and those with mucus-secreting diseases such as cystic fibrosis are more likely to experience sinusitis.

Defensive Measures Against Sinusitis

Protect yourself from colds and the flu and follow these tips to reduce your chances of getting sinusitis:

  • Keep your nose clear. If you have a stuffy nose, use over-the-counter decongestants or nasal sprays (carefully follow the package directions), drink plenty of fluids, and use a humidifier to help drain your nasal passages.
  • Nix nasal annoyances. Smoke, dry air, perfumes, and dust can irritate sinuses, opening the door to infection.
  • Avoid allergens. Allergic reactions can cause sneezing and overproduction of mucus that can clog your nasal passages. Avoid things you know will set off your allergies.
  • Pass on the pool. Chlorine is a nasal irritant, and diving can push water into the sinuses. If you're prone to sinus infections after swimming, maybe you should stay dry (or try a nose plug).
  • Take care in the air. Pressure changes during air travel can be hard on your sinuses. Using a decongestant nasal spray when you fly will keep you breathing easier during and after your flight.

In active Tuberculosis cases, bacteria can attack the lungs, kidney, brain, spine, or any other organ. To learn more about this dangerous infection, go to the next page.This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Preventing Tuberculosis

©2006 Publications International, Ltd. In active tuberculosis cases, bacteria most often attack the lungs, but can also invade the kidney, brain, spine, or any other organ.

The Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacterium is to blame for tuberculosis. While TB is highly infectious, it is not very outside of developing countries.

Tuberculosis Infection Information

Only 10 percent of people who are infected with tuberculosis develop active TB -- the severe, contagious form of infection that causes symptoms. The other 90 percent who have a TB infection have no symptoms and are not contagious because the body's immune system holds the bacteria in check. In active TB cases, bacteria most often attack the lungs, but can also invade the kidney, brain, spine, or any other organ.

The infection spreads when a healthy person inhales expelled TB bacteria from airborne droplets released by a person with active TB. Symptoms of active TB usually don't begin for two or three months after exposure, if at all, and include a long-lasting (sometimes bloody) cough, chest pain, fatigue, fever, weight loss, and drenching night sweats. Active TB requires taking antibiotics for six to 12 months to completely kill the bacteria.

Who's at Risk for Tuberculosis

Anyone who is in close contact with people who have active TB disease is especially at risk. In addition, people with impaired immune systems (especially those who are HIV-positive); alcoholics and intravenous drug users; health-care workers; those who work in nursing homes, residential care facilities, and prisons; and those who travel internationally are more likely to either develop active TB or to be exposed to it. Tuberculosis is more prevalent in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

Defensive Measures Against Tuberculosis

If you have been in close contact with a person with active TB disease, get a TB skin test or chest X-ray to determine if you are infected. Even if you just have a positive skin test, you may be given preventative treatment to decrease the risk of TB activating later.

If you are around people who have a greater chance of being infected with TB, such as if you work in a health-care or correctional facility, consider wearing a filtration mask that will help prevent you from inhaling TB bacteria. Finally, eat a healthy diet, get plenty of rest, and exercise so your immune system is in top shape.

When it comes to respiratory infections, an ounce of prevention is truly worth a pound of cure. Follow these tips to stay healthy during flu season and year round.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michele Price Mann is a freelance writer who has written for such publications as Weight Watchers magazine and Southern Living magazine. Mann formerly was an assistant health and fitness editor at Cooking Light magazine.

© Publications International, Ltd.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.