Pneumonia Facts and Statistics: What You Need to Know

Each year, about 1.5 million adults in the United States are diagnosed with pneumonia. Around 1 million of those people are admitted to the hospital, and another 50,000 die from pneumonia or its complications.

Adults aren't the only ones at risk, either. Pneumonia is the most common cause of death in children under age 5 around the world, killing an estimated 16 out of 100 children every year.

In this article, you will learn about the risks of pneumonia based on your age and demographic and how you can lower your risk of complications.

Sick woman laying on the couch with a tissue, hand on head, and tea by her side.

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Pneumonia Overview

Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs that causes severe inflammation. These infections can be caused by:

The most common culprit is a bacteria called Streptococcus pneumoniae (pneumococcus). Vaccines can protect against up to 20 types of pneumococcal types of pneumonia, but only about two-thirds of adults have received these vaccines and most are 65 and older.

Common symptoms of pneumonia can include:

  • Coughing
  • Fever
  • Difficulty breathing

How Common Is Pneumonia?

Across the globe, pneumonia is a leading cause of death in children under age 5, but this condition is more common in adults overall. Pneumonia is the top cause of hospitalization in adults in the United States next to childbirth, and nearly 50,000 people die from it every year in the United States alone.

Pneumonia is less fatal for children in the United States than in other parts of the world. Pneumonia can be especially serious in:

  • Children
  • Adults over age 65
  • People with weakened immune systems

Pneumonia by Ethnicity

There is some variety in pneumonia rates by ethnic group or race, but research suggests that these differences may have less to do with actual ethnic backgrounds than they do with disparities in access to quality health care.

Both race and socioeconomic status can impact pneumonia rates, especially in regard to bacterial types of pneumonia known as community-acquired pneumonia. People from non-White ethnic backgrounds are between 1.3 and 23 times more likely to have other health conditions that increase their risk of severe influenza and pneumonia. The Black/White fatality disparity is perhaps the most pronounced, though, with pneumonia deaths 16% higher in Black people compared to White people.

Studies indicate that it is not a physiological difference in these ethnicities that contribute to this disparity but rather factors like:

  • Structural racism
  • Social factors
  • Trust in the healthcare system
  • Access to healthcare services

Pneumonia by Age & Sex

There doesn't appear to be a significant link between pneumonia and sex, but age has a significant impact on both infection rates and the severity of illness.

Worldwide, pneumonia is the leading cause of death in children under age 5, resulting in about 80% of deaths in this age group. Most of these deaths occur in developing countries. Mortality is lower in the United States, but pneumonia is still the top cause of hospitalization in children in the United States.

Older adults are also at an increased risk as their immune systems weaken and the likelihood of having other disease complications rises. In the United States alone, pneumonia carries the highest death rate in people over age 65 compared to the other top 10 reasons for hospitalization.

Overall, the death rate from pneumonia among people aged 65 and older is 93.2 per 100,000 people, but this is better broken down into further age categories. When divided into smaller groups, death rates from pneumonia in 2018 were:

  • 31.7 deaths per 100,000 adults aged 65 to 74 years
  • 94.2 deaths per 100,000 adults aged 75 to 84
  • 377.6 deaths per 100,000 adults aged 85 and older

Mortality rates increased for both sexes, but when it comes to older adults, death rates are a bit higher for men than women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

High Risk Isn't the Only Risk

Although children and older adults, as well as people with weakened immune systems, are at the highest risk of developing and dying from pneumonia, people of all ages are at risk.

The American Thoracic Society shares that in 2019:

  • Half of all adults without immune disorders who were hospitalized for pneumonia were between the ages of 18 and 57.
  • Half of all deaths from bacterial pneumococcal pneumonia occurred in people aged 18 to 64.

Causes of Pneumonia & Risk Factors

There are many causes of pneumonia; it is a term used to describe acute inflammation in the lungs from a variety of infections. These infections can be caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi, but in most cases of pneumonia, the infectious organism is never identified.

Some of the most common infections that can lead to pneumonia include:

Aside from the organism that causes the infection, pneumonia types are also categorized by how the infection developed.

  • Community-acquired pneumonia is used to describe an infection that developed outside of the hospital, from any type of source.
  • Healthcare-associated pneumonia is the name used to describe infections that develop more directly from a stay in a hospital, long-term care facility, or dialysis center.
  • Ventilator-associated pneumonia is a specific form of pneumonia that you can develop while on the breathing device. These infections can be bacterial or viral and usually develop when these germs enter the tubing or other equipment on the ventilator.

Beyond specific age groups, ethnicities, and infectious agents, there are also a number of other diseases and conditions that can increase your risk of developing pneumonia. Examples of other risk factors for pneumonia include:

In about of 50% of cases of sepsis and septic shock, pneumonia was the underlying cause of infection.

What Are the Mortality Rates for Pneumonia?

A mortality rate is a number that represents the frequency of death due to a specific cause or situation. In many national estimates, the mortality rates of influenza and pneumonia are grouped together, and these rates have declined over the last several decades.

The overall mortality rate for influenza and pneumonia for all groups of people was 48.1 per 100,000 people in 1950, which dropped to 14.9 per 100,000 by 2018. Mortality rates are higher in some groups, like the elderly and young children, but vaccines and improvements in health care have contributed to the overall improvement in the survival of pneumonia infections.

Screening and Early Detection

There really is no protocol for screening for pneumonia, but people who are at a higher risk of developing these infections should consider vaccination.

There are currently two pneumonia vaccines available in the United States:

  • Pneumococcal conjugate vaccines (PCV13, PCV15, and PCV20)
  • Pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23)

These vaccines can protect against around 20 of the most common causes of pneumonia and are generally recommended for:

  • Children under age 2
  • Adults over age 65
  • People with high-risk conditions

There are some specific criteria for each vaccine as well.

PCV13 is recommended for:

  • All children younger than 2 years old
  • Children 2 through 18 years old with certain medical conditions

PCV15 or PCV20 are recommended for:

  • Adults 65 years and older
  • Adults 19–64 years old with certain medical conditions or risk factors

PPSV23 is recommended for:

  • Children 2 to 18 years old with certain medical conditions
  • Adults 19 years or older who received PCV15

According to the CDC, just one dose of the PCV13 vaccine can prevent serious infection from pneumococcal disease in:

  • 8 out of 10 babies
  • 3 out of 4 adults over age 65

The PPSV23 vaccine is effective in protecting between 6 and 7 out of 10 adults from pneumococcal disease.

Other tips for preventing pneumonia, whether you fall into a high-risk group or not, include:

  • Avoiding people who are sick
  • Staying home when you are sick
  • Washing your hands well and frequently
  • Disinfecting high-touch surfaces
  • Coughing or sneezing into a tissue or your elbow
  • Avoiding smoking cigarettes and being around people who do
  • Managing chronic diseases like diabetes, asthma, and heart disease

Summary

Pneumonia can be caused by a variety of infections and, while treatments have improved, it remains a leading cause of death in all age groups. Prevention is the best medicine. If you are at high risk of developing pneumonia, stay away from people who are sick, practice good hygiene, and consider getting one of the pneumonia vaccines.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What causes pneumonia?

    Pneumonia can be caused by bacterial, viral, or fungal infections in the lungs. These infections can lead to severe inflammation and other complications.

  • Who is most at risk for pneumonia?

    The highest mortality rates for pneumonia are in the very young and the very old or people who are immunocompromised. However, anyone can get pneumonia and become severely ill.

  • Can anyone get the pneumonia vaccine?

    The pneumonia vaccine is highly recommended for people of certain ages or with certain medical conditions. Talk to your doctor about vaccination against pneumonia and which vaccine is right for you.

9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pneumonia.

  2. American Thoracic Society. Top 20 pneumonia facts—2019.

  3. Lippert JF, Buscemi J, Saiyed N, Silva A, Benjamins MR. Influenza and pneumonia mortality across the 30 biggest U.S. cities: assessment of overall trends and racial inequitiesJ. Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities. May 2021. doi:10.1007/s40615-021-01056-x

  4. Ebeledike C, Ahmad T. Pediatric pneumonia. StatPearls [Internet]. January 2022.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. QuickStats: death rates* from influenza and pneumonia† among persons aged ≥65 years, by sex and age group — National Vital Statistics System, United States, 2018.

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Causes of pneumonia.

  7. National Institutes of Health. Pneumonia: causes and risk factors.

  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Table 5. Age-adjusted death rates for selected causes of death, by sex, race, and Hispanic origin: United States, selected years 1950–2018.

  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pneumococcal vaccination: what everyone should know.

By Rachael Zimlich, BSN, RN
 Rachael is a freelance healthcare writer and critical care nurse based near Cleveland, Ohio.