Influenza and Pneumonia Combination Not to Be Taken Lightly

Presence of two illnesses are eighth leading cause of death in the United States

DAYTON, Ohio (September 29, 2014) – Millions of Americans will become infected with the influenza virus this year. For most, the illness will simply mean a week or two of being under the weather, but for others it may become something much worse.

Fighting the flu can require all a person’s immune system has to offer, often weakening the body and making the already ill individual more susceptible to acquiring other infections. Pneumonia is the most common complication of the flu – and perhaps one of the most serious. According to the American Lung Association (ALA), pneumonia and influenza together rank as the eighth leading cause of death in the United States. Of the two infections, pneumonia consistently accounts for the overwhelming majority of deaths, the ALA said.

Josh Ordway, MD“The flu affects the whole body,” said Joshua Ordway, MD, with Franklin Family Practice. “As a result, the whole body shifts its energy toward fighting off the infection, which means it is taking soldiers away from the battle field that could be fighting off other illnesses including bacterial infections such as pneumonia.”

Influenza never turns into pneumonia, but predisposes a person to developing the illness. Knowing the symptoms of both influenza and pneumonia are important, but can be difficult since they often share the same signs. Distinguishing symptoms can include the type of cough, degree of body temperature, and longevity of illness.

Pneumonia will include a wet cough that is accompanied by yellowish-green phlegm. The flu may not always include a cough, and if it is does, it is usually dry. Pneumonia can create a higher body temperature than the flu. The flu usually lasts for one week, sometimes two. Pneumonia can also start gradually and only makes a person feel worse as time goes on, Dr. Ordway, a Premier HealthNet physician, said.

Sandeep Kapur, MD, FCCP, of Middletown Pulmonary and Critical Care said pneumonia is an illness that needs to be respected and handled properly, but often is not.

“We have a lot of work yet to do to properly educate the public on how serious pneumonia can be,” said Dr. Kapur, a Premier Health Specialists physician. “Pneumonia is an infection that can run a broad spectrum when it comes to severity. Because of this, people need to know and understand the symptoms of pneumonia and what distinguishes the illness from influenza.”

As a pulmonologist, Dr. Kapur has taken care of numerous patients whose long-term lung conditions have been affected or caused by pneumonia that was not properly cared for at the time of infection.

“When pneumonia is ignored or is not treated adequately, it can cause lung tissue damage that predisposes them to infections later in life,” Dr. Kapur said.

Pneumonia is a serious infection or inflammation of the lungs where air sacs fill with pus or other liquid, blocking oxygen from reaching the bloodstream. The illness is often diagnosed clinically. Physicians can usually hear a distinct crackling, bubbling or rumbling sound in the lungs. A chest x-ray may be used to verify the diagnosis. Unlike influenza, which is a virus, many forms of pneumonia are caused by bacterial infections that can be successfully treated with antibiotics.

Pneumonia is especially dangerous for people with pre-existing health conditions – such as those that compromise lung function or one’s immunity – as well as infants and older adults. According to the Disease Control and Prevention, pneumonia is the leading cause of death in children under the age of five.

The ALA said there are several things individuals can do to prevent pneumonia. Avoid taking antihistamines, which can dry and thicken secretions in the respiratory tract. Do not smoke or drink excessive alcohol, which can interfere with the body’s natural mechanisms that flush out invading organisms. Taking simple precautions that can help you recover from the flu can also help prevent pneumonia.

Dr. Ordway said these steps include frequent hand-washing; avoiding contact with others who are sick; staying well hydrated; and trying to consume the adequate amount of nutritious calories to keep the body strong. Perhaps the most important step is getting properly immunized from the flu and pneumonia. Children often receive the pneumonia vaccine when they are young. Adults can check with their physician to see if their health condition or age makes them a candidate for the immunization.

For more information on the flu or pneumonia, or to find a primary care physician, visit: www.premierhealthnet.com/doctor.

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