The Zimbabwe Independent

Covid-19 can lead to pneumonia


SCIENTISTS are still battling to understand Covid-19, which makes it a difficult disease to overcome. While it is evident that the novel coronaviru­s attacks the lungs of those needing hospitalis­ation, other organs can also be affected as well.

It is not clear whether other organs that are affected are directly damaged by the virus or by the reaction of the body’s immune system to the virus.

When a person is initially infected with the virus he or she may shed copious amounts of it, even though no symptoms may have appeared, exposing others to the danger of inhaling it.

Once inhaled, the body’s immune system reacts against it. Most people’s immune system successful­ly overcomes it. If the immune system fails at this stage to overcome it, the virus continues into the person’s lungs, which is when it may interfere with a person’s breathing and cause serious illness. Among the other organs that may be affected are the heart and brain but almost any organ can be affected.

Because of its negative effect on the lungs and respirator­y system, it is common for those badly affected by the virus to develop pneumonia, a lung infection that occurs when the air sacs of the lungs fill up with fluid or pus, making it difficult to breathe in enough oxygen to reach the bloodstrea­m. Pain associated with pneumonia can also compromise breathing.

Pneumonia can be life threatenin­g, particular­ly for those over the age of 65, those with health problems or weakened immune systems and small children.


You can get pneumonia after breathing infected air particles into the lungs, breathing certain bacteria from the nose or throat into the lungs or during or after a viral upper respirator­y infection such as influenza or Covid-19.


e symptoms of pneumonia can vary in severity from mild to life-threatenin­g, depending on different factors such as the type of bacteria or virus causing the infection and the person’s age and overall health. If it has developed as a result of Covid-19 it is likely to be serious, especially if you have another underlying health problem or compromise­d immune system.

e most common symptoms of pneumonia are coughing that may produce phlegm, fever, sweating and chills, shortness of breath and chest pain.

Pneumonia that is caused by a virus may start with flu-like symptoms such as wheezing and may result in a high fever after 12 to 36 hours. Pneumonia caused by bacteria may on the other hand cause high fever along with profuse sweating, bluish lips and nails as well as confusion.

Fast heartbeat, a feeling of tiredness or weakness, nausea and vomiting as well as diarrhoea are also known symptoms.

Older adults may have different, fewer or milder symptoms. ey may for instance not have a fever or they may have a cough but not bring up mucus. Confusion and delirium are the more common signs in the older adults. ey may also have a body temperatur­e that is lower than normal.

New-borns and infants may not show any sign of the infection or they may vomit, have a fever and cough. ey may also appear restless or tired and without energy or have difficulty breathing and eating.

Risk factors

Anyone can get pneumonia but those at greatest risk of it are infants from birth to two years old, individual­s aged 65 years and older, people who have had a stroke, have problems swallowing or are bedridden, those who have a weakened immune system due to medication­s such as steroids or certain cancer drugs, people who smoke, misuse drugs or drink alcohol excessivel­y and those seriously affected by a Covid-19 infection.

People with chronic medical conditions such as asthma, cystic fibrosis, diabetes or heart failure or other medical conditions especially lung disease are at high risk both of Covid-19 and pneumonia.


Typically a physical examinatio­n and chest X-ray are enough to diagnose pneumonia but depending on the severity of symptoms and risk of complicati­ons more tests, including a blood test, a sputum test to get a sample from the lungs, a pulse oximetry to see if the lungs are moving enough oxygen through the bloodstrea­m, a urine test, CT scan, a fluid sample or a bronchosco­py may be ordered.

A bronchosco­py looks into the airways in the lungs. is test is done if the initial symptoms are severe, patient is hospitalis­ed or the body is not responding well to antibiotic­s.


Treatment for pneumonia depends on the type of pneumonia, how severe it is and your general health. If it is contracted while at home and there is no Covid-19 infection, pneumonia can generally be treated at home and often clears up within two to three weeks.

However, older adults, babies and people infected with Covid-19 or other diseases may become very ill and need to be hospitalis­ed.

e prescribed treatment for pneumonia is normally antibiotic­s, antiviral or antifungal drugs depending on whether the cause is bacteria, a virus or a fungal infection. Most cases of bacterial pneumonia can be treated at home with oral antibiotic­s. Most people respond to the treatment in one to three days.

In addition the doctor may recommend over the counter medication­s to relieve pain and fever. ese may include aspirin, ibuprofen and acetaminop­hen. e doctor may also recommend cough medicine.

If symptoms are severe and have resulted in hospitalis­ation, treatment may include intravenou­s antibiotic­s, which are injected into the veins, if the cause is a bacterial infection. However, this will not work with Covid-19 or other viruses.

Where pneumonia follows on serious symptoms of a Covid-19 infection, intensive care may be required, with oxygen being administer­ed and perhaps ventilatio­n to inflate the lungs artificial­ly.

The informatio­n in this article is provided as a public service by the Cimas iGo Wellness programme, which is designed to promote good health. It is provided for general informatio­n only and should not be construed as medical advice. Readers should consult their doctor or clinic on any matter related to their health or the treatment of any health problem. — or WhatsApp 0772 161 829 or phone 024-2773 0663.

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