Infectious disease doctors find that many deaths occur because the bacteria that cause pneumonia aren't responding to antibiotic treatment; in other words, they are resistant to antibiotic treatment. That’s especially upsetting, because many people aren't aware that vaccines are available to help prevent pneumonia, and others avoid getting the vaccine because they mistakenly think it is harmful. The pneumococcal pneumonia vaccine is generally recommended for people aged 65 years and older and for adults and some children who have chronic diseases or serious health problems. Just one shot usually provides protection for at least 5 years. Imagine how many pneumonia deaths could be prevented if everyone knew this correct information? Another important prevention method people often forget is to wash and sanitize their hands frequently. That’s especially important during the cold and flu season.

Another category of pneumonia occurs in people who are admitted to a hospital for surgery or other treatments and then develop infections in the lungs and breathing passages (respiratory infections). Medical experts call this “hospital-acquired pneumonia” (HAP), meaning that it occurs 48 hours or more after being admitted to a hospital in a patient who had no signs of pneumonia when he or she came to the hospital. It is one of the most common, and most deadly, types of healthcare-associated infections. In fact, studies show that HAP is the second most frequent cause of hospital-associated infections—it accounts for 15–20 percent of all healthcare-associated infections.

HAP occurs most commonly in patients who already have other health problems, such as strokes, or who unable to get out of bed. It is a very serious disease that adds days to a hospital stay, raises the cost of healthcare, and increases patients’ risk of dying. That’s why you need to know what to watch for and what to do to help to prevent pneumonia when you’re in the hospital.

Hand washing and sanitizing help to prevent all healthcare-associated infections, especially when you’re in the hospital. Unfortunately, that is not enough to protect you from the many risks of HAP. Here are the reasons why. Your nose, mouth, and skin are always exposed to bacteria and viruses floating in the air and landing on surfaces. In hospitals, more bacteria and viruses are floating around, simply because lots of sick people are there. In addition, you may undergo surgery and other hospital procedures that weaken your ability to fight an infection, and you may have incisions or other breaks in the skin that provide new ways for disease-causing germs to enter your body. With all these risks, it’s not surprising that HAP is usually more serious and more difficult to cure than community-acquired pneumonia. Another reason is that hospital germs are often resistant to antibiotics.

The easiest way for pneumonia bacteria to get into your body is via your throat. Outside the hospital that usually happens by breathing in bacteria from the air or by touching a surface that had bacteria on it, and then touching your nose or mouth. Your risks are much greater in the hospital where you may need treatments that can transmit bacteria directly into your airways. One example is a procedure called endotracheal intubation, in which a tube is inserted down the throat and into the breathing passage to help support the patient’s ability to breathe. Healthcare workers may also use a suction device to clear away excess mucus from the patient’s throat.

During procedures like these, any bacteria that may be on the healthcare worker’s hands could spread to the patient’s mouth and throat. If the bacteria multiply and become colonized, they can easily pass from the throat into the lower part of a lung and cause pneumonia. This often occurs in patients who can’t cough or gag due to weakness or disease, or in patients who take medication that prevents coughing. These problems make it difficult for the body to rid itself of bacteria in the lungs.