Bacterial infections of the lower respiratory system are less common than those of the upper system, largely because they are stopped by body defenses at the portal of entry. Lower tract infections, however, are generally much more serious. An earache or sore throat is unlikely to be life threatening, but their causative organisms can endanger life when they infect the lung. Distinctive patterns of signs and symptoms are produced by the different kinds of organisms that infect the lower respiratory system. The pneumonias are inflammatory diseases of the lung in which fluid fills the alveoli. They top the list of infectious killers in the general population of the United States, and they are important as nosocomial, meaning hospital-acquired, infections. Whooping cough, tuberculosis, and Legionnaires' disease are other distinctive types of infection. ■ body defenses, innate immunity, p. 372
Pneumococci are an important cause of pneumonia acquired in the community, accounting for about 60% of the adult pneumonia victims requiring hospitalization.
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