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Beware Pneumonia and Other Complications This Flu Season

Flu seasons come and go, but some years are worse than others. The flu season of 2017-2018 has been particularly hard-hitting, even for groups that are not usually at risk, claiming as many as 4000 lives per week. Many of these deaths are not caused by the flu itself, but by complications like pneumonia. The bug still has weeks if not months of heightened activity left, so if you start feeling feverish, follow these steps to protect yourself and family members.

Understanding How Influenza Turns to Pneumonia

Influenza is a viral illness that spreads primarily through fluids. Several different strains of flu virus exist, each mutating with every passing season. One or two of these strains typically dominate flu seasons. This year, a type of H3 influenza is most common, which also happens to be one of the more dangerous flu varieties. There is also an H1 strain going around; it is possible to contract both.

As your body battles the flu, your lungs become inflamed and your immune system compromised. This leaves you open to other infections, most notably bacterial pneumonia. Pneumonia is a secondary infection of the lungs. Bacteria, taking advantage of your weakened immunity, settle into the air sacs of your lungs and may remain there for weeks. Pneumonia grows dangerous when those air sacs fill with fluid.

Another possible side-effect of the flu, bronchitis, presents similar symptoms as pneumonia but tends to be less serious. Bronchitis is an inflammation of the lungs without infection. As you cough, your airways get more and more irritated, causing you to cough more. This often goes away on its own with time, but check with your doctor if the cough persists.

Recognizing Signs of Trouble

As of late January 2018, influenza and its complications were responsible for 1 in 10 deaths in the United States. While you might usually try to sleep your way through the illness, this year's viruses deserve more attention. Waiting for medical care can mean the difference between a quick recovery and a long stay in the hospital.

Symptoms to look out for include a high fever, difficulty breathing, and coughing that keeps you up at night. See a doctor immediately if you develop a painful cough that produces blood. Green or yellow mucus is another sign that your body is fighting a bacterial infection and may need an outside boost.

Seeking Professional Attention

Whenever you feel worried about your health or have been unable to function for several days, visit a doctor for some help getting over the hump. With the right care, you can manage pneumonia until you make a full recovery, but if ignored too long, it can turn deadly. By taking precautions, you will hopefully make it through the season with minimal disruption to your life and work schedule.  

Monitoring Your Symptoms in Recovery

Even if you aren't in the usual high-risk demographics for flu, you should pay careful attention to your health as you recover from the illness. The most vulnerable patients are usually older, younger, pregnant, or dealing with a compromised immune system. However, this pattern is holding less true for 2017-2018. A normal, healthy immune system may not be enough to carry you through.  

Preventing Future Illness With a Flu Shot

This flu season is worse than usual, but it won't be the last. To spare yourself the worry and discomfort, always invest in a flu shot before the season begins. Flu shots are carefully formulated every year to combat the most common flu strains in circulation. One simple preventative measure can spare you a week or more of misery. For more help getting past the flu and ensuring your lungs are healthy, contact us at Alpha J. Anders, M.D., FCCP.

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