Doctor Warns: Be Wary Of Pneumonia This Flu Season

OLD BRIDGE—With all the attention that H1N1 is getting and with “traditional” flu season just around the corner, it’s important to remember pneumonia can be a serious flu complication for some people.

Pneumonia is an infection in one or both lungs. It can be caused by many types of germs, including bacteria, viruses, and fungi. “Colds, the flu, and acute bronchitis, a sudden swelling of the tubes that carry air to the lungs, also are all respiratory infections,” says Raritan Bay Medical Center’s assistant director of emergency services, Old Bridge campus Dr. Lee Leak. “Not surprisingly, there is some overlap in the symptoms caused by these illnesses.”  But there also are key differences that set pneumonia apart.


• Symptoms of a cold or the flu include coughing, sore throat, tiredness, fever, body aches, and a stuffy or runny nose. “Although colds and the flu have many symptoms in common, the flu usually makes you sicker. Given the circumstances of this year’s flu season with the presence of H1N1 and seasonal flu it’s important to know that pneumonia sometimes develops after one of these illnesses,” said Dr. Leak.

• The main symptom of acute bronchitis is developing a new cough, which may bring up mucus. If you already have chronic bronchitis, you may cough up mucus frequently. But when you get an infection, the coughing may suddenly get worse. Most cases of acute bronchitis are due to viruses.

• “Pneumonia often starts out like acute bronchitis, but the cough doesn’t get better with rest and fluids,” said Dr. Leak. “You may cough up mucus that looks deep yellow, green, or red in color. Other symptoms that may develop include a high fever, shaking chills, chest pain, fatigue, and worsening shortness of breath.”

Don’t hesitate to call your doctor if you suspect pneumonia. Pneumonia is a serious illness. An early diagnosis and prompt treatment can improve the chances for successful recovery.

“To diagnose pneumonia and find its cause, your doctor may order a chest X-ray, blood test, chest CT scan, or another test,” said Dr. Leak. “Treatment depends on many factors, including the type of pneumonia you have and your health status.”

Medication therapy is often used to treat bacterial pneumonia and some viral cases. Your doctor may advise a hospital stay if the infection is severe or if you’re at risk for complications.

Dr. Leak offers the following tips to reduce your risk for pneumonia:

• Talk with your doctor about whether you should have a flu and/or pneumonia vaccination. Vaccines are recommended for high risk individuals, including adults 65 and older and people with chronic health conditions. For most people, a vaccine for pneumonia is good for about five years, but you must get a flu shot each year.

• Wash your hands often with soap and water or alcohol-based wipes.

• Refrain from smoking, as smoking reduces your lungs’ ability to filter out and fend off germs.

• Keep your immune system strong. Eat right, exercise regularly, and get plenty of rest.

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