Generally speaking, flu season lasts between October and May, but February is what is most considered peak flu season, and the month we are entering. There are a lot of myths floating around the internet about the flu, treatments, and the severity of pneumonia for patients of all ages, so the Abraham Family & Geriatric Medicine providers want to share some of our knowledge on a subject we strongly agree should not be underestimated! Let’s explore the 411 on the flu and pneumonia: what they are, how they can spread, who is at risk, and more.
What is pneumonia?
Simply put – pneumonia is a lung infection that can make you extremely sick. Commonly occurring after a person has a cold or the flu, pneumonia is generally a mild illness but can progress to more advanced and very dangerous forms (symptoms can include cough, fever, shortness of breath, chest pains, increased heart rate, nausea, and fatigue). Pneumonia develops from bacteria that enters the lungs (it can affect one lobe of the right/left lung, an entire lung, or both) which can make it difficult to breath and prevent the lungs from getting sufficient oxygen to the blood. Without proper amounts of oxygen flowing through the body, we’re not able to function or give our cells the energy it needs to perform as they should.
What is the flu?
The flu (also commonly referred to as influenza) is a highly-contagious respiratory virus that attacks the body and spreads through the upper and/or lower respiratory tract. Symptoms are similar to those of a cold (coughing, sore throat, stuffy nose, headache, and/or chest pains), however flu symptoms are more extensive (add high fever, body aches, and/or fatigue) – often seemingly coming from out of thin air.
How can you treat the flu and pneumonia?
One of the biggest misconceptions about the flu is regarding treatments and preventative measures that can be taken to help reduce the chances of catching this virus. Since it is a virus and not a bacterial infection, the flu cannot be treated using antibiotics. For most acute cases, pneumonia can clear up in a few weeks at home. Antibiotics, as recommended by a physician, may be needed to reduce chances of complications in regards to more advanced stages of pneumonia. Additionally, some forms of pneumonia can be extremely dangerous and require hospitalization for treatment. Flu symptoms generally last around five days but can often linger for several weeks after. If you notice symptoms worsening beyond this, it’s advised to seek medical care immediately as untreated flu and pneumonia cases can cause serious complications.
Who is most at risk of getting the flu or pneumonia?
Anyone – regardless of your age, the flu doesn’t discriminate on who it targets! Infants, the elderly, women who are pregnant, and those who suffer from chronic illnesses (like diabetes, heart or lung disease, HIV, etc.) are at a higher risk of experiencing complications from the flu. Since the flu is a viral infection, it’s spread from person to person. The flu virus is an airborne virus, so having direct contact with large groups of people increases your risk of inhaling these particles. You can also catch the flu by touching contaminated items that have been handled by someone infected, and especially through saliva (meaning it is best not to share drinks).
Can the flu and pneumonia be prevented?
There are new strains of the flu virus appearing each year – so it makes it difficult to provide generic medicine for treatment. The best way to prevent the flu is with the flu vaccine that comes in either a shot or nasal spray. To prevent pneumonia we recommend immunizations for children and especially adults (mainly concerning those over the age of 65). For geriatric patients, vaccination is the key to pneumonia prevention. Each year, 18,000 seniors die from pneumonia bacteria and therefore the new PCV13 (pneumococcal conjugate vaccine) is highly recommended because it not only protects against 13 different strains of the pneumococcus bacteria but also against pneumonia itself. To better equip our patients and provide better protection against this bacterium, Medicare recently announced new benefit coverage that pays for the PCV13 vaccine – so we encourage all of our senior patients to consider getting vaccinated.
It may not always be easy to avoid catching a cold or the flu, but we believe education is the key to prevention! We’d love for all of our patients to lead healthy and happy lives so we like to recommend listening to your body, taking any extra precautions you need to protect yourself and your loved ones, and seeing an experienced provider who you trust when you may not be feeling your best. To learn more about the flu, pneumonia, or our healthcare services, please don’t hesitate to contact Abraham Family & Geriatric Medicine. For more health tips and safety information, be sure to also connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+!