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Hospital-acquired pneumonia is an infection of the lungs that occurs during a hospital stay. This type of pneumonia can be very severe. Sometimes it can be fatal.
Nosocomial pneumonia; Ventilator-associated pneumonia; Health-care associated pneumonia
Pneumonia is a common illness. It is caused by many different germs. Hospital-acquired pneumonia tends to be more serious than other lung infections because:
- Patients in the hospital are often very sick and cannot fight off germs.
- The types of germs present in a hospital are often more dangerous than those encountered in the community.
Hospital-acquired pneumonia occurs more often in patients who are using a respirator machine to help them breathe. This machine is also called a ventilator. This type of pneumonia is known as ventilator-associated pneumonia.
Hospital-acquired pneumonia can also be spread by health care workers, who can pass germs from their hands or clothes from one patient to another. That is why hand-washing, wearing gowns, and using other safety measures is so important in the hospital.
Patients who are more prone to getting hospital-acquired pneumonia:
- Are alcoholic
- Have had chest surgery or other major surgery
- Have a weak immune system from cancer treatment, certain medicines, or severe wounds
- Have long-term (chronic) lung disease
- Breathe saliva or food into their lungs as a result of not being fully alert or problems swallowing
- Are older
In an elderly person, the first sign of hospital-acquired pneumonia may be mental changes or confusion. Other symptoms are:
- A cough that may produce mucus-like, greenish, or pus-like phlegm (sputum)
- Fever and chills
- General discomfort, uneasiness, or ill feeling (malaise)
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Sharp chest pain that gets worse with deep breathing or coughing
- Shortness of breath
Exams and Tests
Tests to check for hospital-acquired pneumonia may include:
- Arterial blood gases, to measure oxygen levels in the blood
- Blood cultures, to see if the infection has spread to the blood
- Chest x-ray or CT scan, to check the lungs
- Complete blood count (CBC)
- Pulse oximetry, to measure oxygen levels in the blood
- Sputum culture or sputum gram stain, to check for what germs are causing the pneumonia
You will receive antibiotics through your veins (IV) to treat your lung infection. The antibiotic you are given will fight the germs that are in your sputum culture.
You may also receive oxygen to help you breathe better and lung treatments to loosen and remove thick mucus from your lungs.
Patients who have other serious conditions do not recover as well from pneumonia as patients who are not as sick.
Hospital-acquired pneumonia can be a life-threatening illness. Long-term lung damage may occur.
Wash your hands for at least 1 minute, like this:
- Lather up well with warm water and soap.
- Wash the backs and palms of your hands, fingers, between your fingers, and under your nails thoroughly.
- Wash for as long as it takes you to say the alphabet slowly or sing the "Happy Birthday" song 2 times through.
- Dry with a clean paper towel. Also, use a paper towel to turn off the faucet and open the bathroom door.
After any surgery, you will be asked to take deep breaths to help keep your lungs open. Follow the advice of your doctor and nurse to help prevent pneumonia.
Most hospitals have programs to prevent hospital-acquired infections.
American Thoracic Society. Guidelines for the management of adults with hospital-acquired, ventilator-associated, and healthcare-associated pneumonia. Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2005 Feb 15;171(4):388-416.
Chastre J, Luyt CE. Ventilator-associated pneumonia. In: Mason RJ, Broaddus VC, Martin TR, et al. Murray& Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 5th ed. Philadelphia,Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2010:chap 33.
Craven DE, Chroneou A. Nosocomial pneumonia. In: Mandell GL, Bennett JE, Dolin R, eds. Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2009:chap 303.
Fishman N, Calfee DP. Prevention and control of health care-associated infections. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia,PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 290.
Limper AH. Overview of pneumonia.In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia,PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 97.
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.