Bacteria, Fungi, Viruses

Pneumonia: A Disease of the Ancients

Author Edward Borton , 12-Nov-2020

Table of contents

Numerous lung diseases have plagued the human race throughout history, and doctors have been working tirelessly to find effective means of beating them – a battle that continues to the present day.

While many diseases cause symptoms in the lung, several of them attack this organ directly. “Pneumonia” is not a single disease, but rather a generic term for inflammatory conditions affecting the lungs. Cases of pneumonia affect hundreds of millions of people each year, and are the leading causes of mortality among both children and elderly individuals, with an estimated 4 million deaths every year [1].

An Old Enemy

Pneumonia has existed for thousands of years, with Hippocrates himself describing the symptoms during the fifth to fourth centuries BCE [2]. Knowledge of the disease likely dates back even further, as Hippocrates himself considered it to be ‘named by the ancients’. The name appears to be derived from the Greek word pneúmōn, meaning ‘lung’.

Maimonides (12th century) stated ‘The basic symptoms that occur in pneumonia and that are never lacking are as follows: acute fever, sticking pleuritic pain in the side, short rapid breaths, serrated pulse, and cough.’ This is mirrored by many modern textbooks even today.

It was not until the late 1880s that the link between bacteria and pneumonia was established. This concept was prompted by Edwin Klebs in 1875, who first observed the bacteria in patients dying from the disease (the bacterial genus Klebsiella is named after him) [3]. Viral pneumonia was not discovered until 1938, by Hobart Reimann [4].

Four Types Of Pneumonia

Pneumonia is an inflammatory condition of the lungs that is typically caused by infection. There are four main types of pneumonia: viral, bacterial, mycoplasma, and pneumocystis. It has a wide etiological spectrum – including a large variety of bacteria, viruses, fungi [5] which cause alveoli (air sacs) in one or both lungs to become inflamed and fill with fluid or pus, resulting in restricted breathing ability.


Viral pneumonia is the most common type of pneumonia. There are many different types of viral pneumonia, which are caused by a variety of viruses.

The most common type of viral pneumonia is influenza, which is caused by the influenza virus. Other types of viral pneumonia include RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), adenovirus, and HPIV (human parainfluenza virus). Viral pneumonia can also be caused by other respiratory viruses such as coronaviruses and rhinoviruses.

Symptoms of viral pneumonia include fever, coughing, chest pain, shortness of breath, rapid breathing, sweating, and shaking chills. Bronchiolitis Obliterans Syndrome may develop in some patients.


Bacterial pneumonia is a less common type of pneumonia but can be more serious. It is usually caused by bacteria such as Streptococcus pneumonia or Haemophilus influenza.

Bacteria that cause pneumonia can enter the lungs in many ways, such as through the airways after a cold or the flu, through contact with infected animals or people, or through contaminated food or water. Treatment typically involves antibiotics and oxygen therapy. Early diagnosis and treatment are important for preventing serious health complications.

GIDEON chronicles the epidemiology of pneumoniae caused by bacteria such as Streptococcus pneumoniaeKlebsiella pneumoniae, Chlamydia, and Mycoplasma pneumoniae.

Mycoplasma Pneumonia

Mycoplasma pneumonia is another less common type of pneumonia that is caused by a type of bacteria called mycoplasma.

Mycoplasma pneumoniae infection is most frequently observed in patients below the age of 30 and is often accompanied by a bullous otitis media and a ‘hacking’ cough.


Pneumocystis pneumonia, on the other hand, is characterized by dyspnea and hypoxia – and is usually encountered in severely immunosuppressed patients.

Symptoms of Pneumonia

Pneumonia symptoms include difficulty breathing, chest pain, fever, chills, and coughing up mucus or blood. These symptoms typically appear suddenly and may be accompanied by nausea and vomiting.

In severe cases of pneumonia, patients may also experience:

  • rapid heartbeat
  • confusion
  • weakness
  • high fever
  • fatigue
  • mental disturbances
  • pneumonia-related complications such as pneumonia-induced sepsis

With proper treatment and rest, most people will make a full recovery from this condition.

History Of Pneumonia

An extensive array of therapeutic options have evolved for the treatment of pneumonia. Hippocrates pioneered thoracic drainage, leaving tubes in place for up to two weeks [6]; while in medieval times we might have encountered the occasional bloodletting. As crude as those methods may seem, the treatments of the early 20th century were far from elegant, though somewhat more comfortable.

Pneumonia was often treated with toxic chemicals such as arsenic or strychnine. These treatments were based on the theory that pneumonia was caused by a bacterial infection, and that the toxins would kill the bacteria. However, these treatments were largely ineffective and often resulted in more harm than good.

In the 1920s, antibiotics such as sulfonamides and penicillin began to be used to treat pneumonia. These antibiotics were much more effective at treating pneumonia and other bacterial infections. However, they did not work against viral infections.

In the 1950s, new antibiotics such as chloramphenicol and tetracycline were developed that were effective against both bacterial and viral infections. These antibiotics revolutionized the treatment of pneumonia and other infections.

Electronic inhalers have now been consigned to history books and museums. While the design of inhalers improved considerably during the last 100 years, their function has changed little.

Modern Treatment of Pneumonia and Infection

The way pneumonia is treated has changed a great deal in the last century. In the early 1900s. Today, pneumonia can be treated with a variety of different antibiotics or antivirals. The type of medication used depends on the cause of pneumonia. Viral pneumonia is usually treated with antiviral drugs, while bacterial pneumonia is treated with antibiotics.

There are several different types of antiviral drugs available, and the most appropriate one to use for recovery will depend on the specific virus causing pneumonia. For example, if the pneumonia is caused by influenza (the flu), then an Influenza A virus inhibitor such as oseltamivir (Tamiflu) may be prescribed. Some other common antivirals used to treat pneumonia include:

  • Acyclovir (Zovirax)
  • Amantadine (Symmetrel)
  • Ribavirin (Viread)
  • Valacyclovir (Valtrex)

There are a number of different antibiotics that can be used to treat pneumonia, depending on the particular bacteria that is causing the infection. For example, if the pneumonia is caused by a bacteria such as Streptococcus pneumoniae, antibiotics such as penicillin or erythromycin may be prescribed.

Some common antibiotics include:

  • penicillin
  • amoxicillin
  • erythromycin
  • tetracycline

In some cases, a combination of different antibiotics may be necessary for recovery. If the cause of the pneumonia is unknown or multiple causes are suspected, a broad-spectrum antibiotic may be prescribed. Some commonly used broad-spectrum antibiotics include ciprofloxacin and levofloxacin.

It is important to finish the entire course of antibiotic treatment even if you start to feel better, as this will help to ensure that all of the bacteria are killed and prevent the infection from coming back during your recovery.

Preventing Pneumonia and Protecting Your Health

Prompt treatment of respiratory infections is important for the prevention of pneumonia. If a respiratory infection is not treated promptly, it can progress to pneumonia. Pneumonia can be prevented by vaccination, good hygiene, and prompt treatment of respiratory infections.

The most effective approach to treating pneumonia is to prevent it from occurring in the first place by getting vaccinated against the disease.

Vaccines for Pneumonia

Recent research has focused on developing vaccines for pneumonia that can help to protect individuals from this disease e. Vaccines work by stimulating the body’s immune system to produce antibodies against a pathogen or infection.

In the case of pneumonia, this results in the production of antibodies that recognize key proteins or structural components of pneumonia-causing pathogens. These antibodies then target and neutralize these pathogens, leading to the prevention of infection and pneumonia from developing.

There are several different vaccines that have been developed to help protect against pneumonia, including a vaccine known as PCV-13. In addition to being highly effective, vaccines for pneumonia are also generally very well tolerated, with minimal side effects or risks involved.

Given their many advantages, it is clear that vaccines for pneumonia are an important tool in the fight against this deadly illness and prevention of pneumonia altogether. Through ongoing research and development efforts, we are closer than ever to achieving widespread vaccination against pneumonia, which could save many lives around the world.

The Epidemiology of Pneumonia Risk

Due to the many different factors that can contribute to pneumonia development, it is very difficult to pinpoint an exact cause or source of an individual case. However, epidemiological studies have revealed some important patterns in the distribution and risk factors for pneumonia across different communities and populations. For example, underlying medical conditions can be considered pneumonia risk factors.

One major area of focus has been on understanding the epidemiology of pneumonia in children. Clinicians typically classify pneumonia into two main categories: community acquired pneumonia (CAP) and healthcare-associated pneumonia (HCAP). Both are sometimes referred to broadly as “acquired pneumonia”.

CAP is typically caused by viral or bacterial infections that are acquired outside of a hospital setting, while HCAP occurs as a result of exposure within a medical facility or other places where individuals receive some form of healthcare services.

Studies have shown that children under the age of 2 years old are particularly susceptible to CAP, with sources such as daycare centers and crowded living environments being closely associated with outbreaks. Other risk factors include low birth weight, lack of breastfeeding, and underlying chronic conditions like asthma or cardiovascular disease.

Studies have shown that pneumonia is one of the leading causes of death for older adults and children, and the fact that many adults suffer from pneumonia after already contracting another illness shows that this disease can be especially dangerous. Additionally, pneumonia tends to be more common in communities with poor access to healthcare or limited resources for treating respiratory infections.

Through careful study and analysis of risk factors like age, gender, lifestyle choices, and underlying health conditions, they hope not only to develop better treatments for pneumonia but also to develop strategies for reducing the risk of pneumonia in at-risk individuals and in vulnerable communities. Ultimately, their work will help us to better understand this widespread disease and GIDEON can empower these researchers to make a difference.

The GIDEON Difference in Pneumonia Research

GIDEON is one of the most well-known and comprehensive global databases for infectious diseases. Data is refreshed daily, and the GIDEON API allows medical professionals and researchers access to a continuous stream of data. Whether your research involves quantifying data, learning about specific microbes, or testing out differential diagnosis tools– GIDEON has you covered with a program that has met standards for accessibility excellence.

You can also review our eBooks on AlkhurmaBotulismCryptococcus, and more. Or check out our global status updates on countries like AlgeriaCanadaIceland, and more!


[1] Pneumonia“,, 2020. [Online]

[2] R. Feigin, Textbook Of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, 5th ed. Philadelphia: Saunders, 2004, p. 299.

[3] I. Gerard and K. Root, “Pneumonia“,, 2017. [Online]

[4] F. Wagner and J. Hodges, Thomas Jefferson University: Tradition and Heritage. Philadelphia, Pa.: Jefferson Digital Commons, 1989, p. 253.

[5] “Pneumonia“, John Hopkins Medicine, 2020. [Online] 

[6] S. Walcott-Sapp and M. Sukumar, “A History of Thoracic Drainage: From Ancient Greeks to Wound Sucking Drummers to Digital Monitoring“,, 2015. [Online]

Edward Borton

Edward is a creative writer and editor currently helping GIDEON create insightful, compelling, and educational content to help bring the most out of GIDEON's data. Having worked in the IT, engineering, and medical industries, Edward has edited and authored promotional, academic, and professional pieces focused on engaging the reader and translating highly technical concepts into plain English.

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