Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Danger of Flu--Getting Pneumonia

About 5-20% of the US population gets the flu each year.  The worst months are usually between December and March.  A good portion of those that think they have the flu actually have another virus.  The CDC reported that in the first 3 weeks of January this year about 12,000 people were tested for the influenza virus and only 3,000 tested positive.

In general influenza may make you feel miserable and cause you to miss work, but isn't dangerous.   The symptoms of influenza include fever, headache, cough, chills, sore throat, nasal congestion, muscle aches, loss of appetite, and a general achy and lousy feeling, obviously no fun for anyone.  But the majority of people get better without any medication as their immune system fights the virus.  Anti-viral medication may reduce the symptoms by a few days, if started at the beginning of the illness. Most of the symptoms are actually caused by the immune system, not the virus.

But the danger is, 10% or more of people with influenza may get the serious complication of pneumonia, caused either by the influenza virus or more often by a secondary bacterial infection.  6.3% of those with influenza and pneumonia died in the third week of January this year.  The air sacs in the lungs fill with pus and other fluid, blocking the oxygen from getting into the bloodstream and out to the body.  If there is too little oxygen in the blood stream, the cells cannot work properly and can possibly lead to death.  This is the most common cause of death from influenza.

The symptoms of pneumonia include:
  • High fever
  • Shaking chills
  • A productive cough with thick or bloody phlegm
  • Shortness of breath with normal daily activities
  • Chest pain when you breathe or cough
  • Feeling suddenly worse after the flu
  • A general feeling of weakness and ill health 

  • If you're an older adult, you may have fewer and milder symptoms. Remember there is such thing as "walking pneumonia." You may even have a lower than normal temperature. Older adults who catch pneumonia also sometimes have sudden changes in mental awareness because of lack of oxygen to the brain.

     Pneumonia can be surmised from listening to the lungs, with the area filled with fluid having decreased breath sounds, where bronchitis has wet, moist sounds.  But the only way to truly diagonse is with x-ray, showing an opaque area where the fluid has accumulated.

    The people most at risk for pneumonia are those whose immune systems are weaker.  This includes the very young, the very old, people with chronic diseases, those who smoke, people with AIDS, immune systems which have been affected by birth defects, or those on certain medications which weaken the immune system, such as steroids like prednisone.   But old age is the greatest risk factor.  60% of those hospitalized for pneumonia are 65 and older, and 90% of influenza related pneumonia deaths occur in those aged 65 years or older.

    If you suspect that you may have pneumonia, definitely see a doctor and get on antibiotics.  Guaifenisen and nebulizer treatments with simple normal saline help moisten the lungs to be able to better cough up the fluid.  Steroid inhalers can reduce the inflammation. 

    Alternatively, high dose intravenous vitamin C will help, though it should be used in combination with antibiotics.  High dose vitamin A (not beta-carotene) of up to 100,000 IU/day for 3 days, then 50,000 IU/day until symptoms improve, will help strengthen the lining of the lungs to fight the infection.  Dr. Christopher's Lung and Bronchial formula helps to loosen and bring up mucus.  Bromelain and other digestive enzymes, when used between meals, reduce the inflammation.  Colloidal silver can act as a natural antibiotic.  Shiitake and Maitake mushrooms can help support the immune system.  And make sure to use probiotics any time you are on antibiotics.

    Eat well, sleep enough, wash your hands, exercise (but not TOO much), take Vitamin D and C, to build your immune system to prevent getting influenza and prevent getting complications such as pneumonia.

    Until we meet again,
    Dr. Judi

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