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Stopping the Flu From Becoming Pneumonia


By Kathy Hubbard


“No cause for alarm over flu,” the newspaper headline said on December 11, 1918. Floyd Wendle, MD, County Health Officer said, “There is no cause for alarm over the ‘flu’ situation as I think we have it well in hand. We have had but four new cases in the last twenty-four hours. The new cases are much lighter and fatalities have been absent for weeks.”

This caught my eye, because the subject for this week’s article (determined months ago) was to be a revisit to the benefits of getting a flu shot. My great-grandfather died during the flu epidemic of 1918 and my grandmother always talked about how he would have survived in today’s modern medical world.

A friend of mine who works at Bonner General Health told me that the hospital hasn’t seen many cases of flu so far this season, but they have seen a sizable increase in cases of pneumonia. That made me think that perhaps we should look at preventing both of these, still in some cases, deadly diseases.

I’m always the first to recommend that everyone get a flu shot, and today is no different. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that anyone can get the flu and anyone can have serious complications such as bacterial pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections and worsening of existing conditions such as congestive heart failure, asthma or diabetes.

So, the answer is yes, pneumonia can develop from the flu. It even can be a complication of the common cold. So, today, I’m telling everyone particularly those over the age of 65 and those 19 to 64 with certain health conditions to talk to their medical provider about getting vaccinated against pneumococcal disease, as well as the flu.

“Each year in the United States, pneumococcal disease kills thousands of adults. Thousands more end up in the hospital because of pneumococcal disease. It can cause severe infections of the lungs (pneumonia), bloodstream (bacteremia), and lining of the brain and spinal cord (meningitis). Vaccines are the best way to prevent pneumococcal disease,” the CDC says.

There are two pneumonia vaccines, and I won’t get into their details, but typically you’ll get both of them, but not at the same time. Your primary care provider or pharmacist can explain all that to you.

Those “certain health conditions” I mentioned above include heart disease, asthma, lymphoma, diabetes, HIV and smoking. Of course, I’ll tell you to quit smoking, but if you don’t you’re at higher risk for pneumonia than I am.

There’s also a vaccine for children, so ask your pediatrician what’s best for them, particularly if they attend a child care facility.

We should all know that the easiest way to differentiate between a cold and the flu is how quickly symptoms come on. Colds usually start with a scratchy throat and then the runny nose faucet gets to work. The flu comes on with a fever and chills and the symptoms, although similar to a cold, are usually more severe. Both are caused by viruses and therefore not treated with antibiotics.

“Pneumonia is typically caused by bacterial infections, although there are types of viral pneumonia,” Everyday Health explains. “Bacterial pneumonia is very treatable with antibiotics, if you get a diagnosis and promptly start pneumonia treatment.”

Signs of pneumonia include coughing up mucus or even blood; extreme fatigue; trouble breathing; chest pain that gets worse when you breathe deeply or cough; high fever with chills; headaches; frequent sweating with clammy skin; no appetite, and acting confused.

We also know that colds just need to run their course, but flu and pneumonia are different.

“Both can have serious consequences and more severe symptoms that can leave you feeling pretty awful. Both are associated with a much higher rate of hospitalization and even death than the common cold. The severe symptoms associated with flu and pneumonia should be evaluated by a doctor,” Everyday Health says.

Besides getting vaccinated, what can you do? You know, wash your hands frequently, use alcohol-based hand sanitizers when you don’t have access to a sink, water and soap. Use the provided wipes to clean off the grocery cart. Get enough sleep, exercise regularly and eat a healthy diet. And, don’t smoke or vape, be kind to your lungs they help you breathe.


Kathy Hubbard is a member of Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at kathyleehubbard@yahoo.com.

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