There has been an increase in pneumonia deaths unrelated to the flu — showing that the deaths could be caused by the coronavirus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Pneumonia deaths have been on the rise since late February, outpacing the percentage of flu-related deaths, the CDC said. One explanation, according to the CDC, is that some people are dying of pneumonia after contracting the coronavirus.
Pneumonia is an infection in the lungs caused by viruses, bacteria and fungi, according to the CDC. Symptoms include fever, cough and trouble breathing.
When people are infected with the coronavirus, the respiratory tree, or the air passages that provide a pathway for air between the lungs, can also be affected, according to The Guardian. Inflammation in the respiratory tree can irritate nerves in the airway.
“But if this gets worse, it goes past just the lining of the airway and goes to the gas exchange units, which are at the end of the air passages,” John Wilson, president-elect of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, told The Guardian. “If they become infected they respond by pouring out inflammatory material into the air sacs that are at the bottom of our lungs.”
Inflamed air sacs can then cause an “outpouring of inflammatory material [fluid and inflammatory cells] into the lungs and we end up with pneumonia,” Wilson said.
In a study of people admitted to the hospital and were infected by pneuomnia caused by coronavirus in Wuhan, China, 26% had severe cases and were treated in the intensive care unit, Healthline reported. Around 4.3% in the ICU died from pneumonia, the study said.
Pneumonia can be diagnosed by looking at symptoms and taking chest X-rays, according to Consumer Reports. When pneumonia is caused by coronavirus, people are most likely given antibiotics in case it leads to a bacterial infection, even though the illness is a virus, according to Consumer Reports.
Doctors said that some coronavirus deaths in February and early March were misidentified as being caused by the flu or pneumonia, The New York Times reported.