Though colds and coughs often heal themselves out after a few days, people should take caution and see a doctor if these symptoms last two weeks, doctors at the Valenzuela City Health Office are telling the public.
Upper respiratory infections, if left untreated, can lead to pneumonia, one of the top causes of death among Valenzuela residents these past few years.
In Valenzuela last year, it accounted for 210 deaths, the second leading cause of mortality after myocardial infarction. The previous year, it was the top cause of death in the city, killing 165. From 2008 through 2012, the infection claimed an average of 245 lives in the city.
Pneumonia was also the most common illness that killed children under the age of five in 2014, claiming 31 lives.
Pneumonia is an infection that hits the lungs, caused by virus, bacteria, or fungi, the World Health Organization says.
These infectious agents are usually found in the upper respiratory tract – ears and nose – and often present themselves as colds and coughs. They would at times spread down the lower respiratory tract, allowing the development of pneumonia.
“Pneumonia most commonly hits people with weak immune systems,” said Dr. John Tiongco, CHO medical coordinator for the respiratory diseases. “When your immune system is weak, the infection may spread down to the lower respiratory tract, to the lungs. The risk of dying by pneumonia is higher when the infection hits the lower respiratory tract because it is where gas exchange takes place.”
The alveoli – a sac-like structure where the oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange during inhalation and exhalation – react to the infection by producing mucus, making breathing difficult.
Tiongco said symptoms of pneumonia include persistent cough mild to high fever, and constricted breathing.
The infection most frequently affects children under the age of five and the elderly, Tiongco added.
The WHO names pneumonia as the “forgotten killer of children,” killing at least two million children every year and accounts for the death of one in every five children, a rate higher than any other disease that affects children.
Among the elderly, pneumonia is often a complication of other diseases, Dr. Tiongco added.
A type of pneumonia, the low-risk community acquired, can be treated at community health stations where the patient is given oral antibiotics. At home, the patient is made to inhale a salt-and-water solution to clear the air passageways of mucus. Vitamin C should also be taken by the patient to bolster the immune system.
However, those who contract moderate-risk community-acquired and high-risk pneumonia must be admitted at a hospital.
Vaccines that protect a person from pneumonia are available at community health stations, Tiongco said.
The Diptheria-Tetanus-Pertussis (DPT) vaccine is given to infants to prevent them from catching at least two upper respiratory infections: diphtheria, a bacterial infection that causes an inflammation of the neck muscles; and pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough. The other infection it combats is tetanus, an infection caused by Clostridium tetani.
Adult and children, on the other hand, may avail themselves of pneumococcal vaccines. The elderly may be given flu vaccine.
Besides vaccines, healthy habits also go a long way when it comes to preventing pneumonia:
Wash hands properly. Wash hands each time they hold a dirty object. Washing should last between five to 15 minutes, or about the whole length of the children’s song Happy Birthday.
Practice cough etiquette. Coughing should be done with the mouth covered, by the hand, the shirt collar or hem to prevent the spread of infectious agents via the air.
Refrain from smoking. Cigarette smoke, when inhaled, can damage the cilia – microscopic hairs that keep air passages clean – and cause pneumonia or bronchitis.
Eat a balanced diet to fortify the immune system.
Get enough rest and sleep. “Many people now neglect rest and sleep, and work their bodies too hard,” said Tiongco. “We need rest and sleep because these are when our bodies get to heal themselves.”
Tiongco said it is best to consult a doctor when symptoms such as colds and coughs become persistent.
Consultation at the city government-run Valenzuela City Emergency Hospital costs P50, while enrollees of the conditional cash transfer program Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) may avail themselves of the service for free.
The city government recently opened the primary hospital’s outpatient department building, which houses the following clinics: dental, pediatric, wellness, social hygiene, and one for persons with disabilities.
The VCEH is located along G. Lazaro Street, Barangay Dalandanan.