When I was growing up, my mother repeatedly warned me about getting pneumonia. “Don’t got outside without a coat, or you’ll get pneumonia,” or “Stay in bed with that cough or you’ll get pneumonia.” While we now know that going outside without a coat won’t make you catch pneumonia (although it can affect some people’s immune systems), she was sort of correct on one point. If you have the flu, you can develop pneumonia.
I want to point out that pneumonia is not a bad case of the flu. The flu is a viral infection, separate from pneumonia. Pneumonia is a condition that can be cause either by a virus or by a bacteria infection, and can be a more severe disease. So how can you develop pneumonia if you have the flu?
If the flu is not treated, especially in vulnerable populations, such as the very young or old, it can lead to complications. One of those complications could be pneumonia.
The important thing to remember is that pneumonia may not clear up on its own. If it is the bacteria type, which is usually what develops as a complication of the flu, it needs to be treated with antibiotics. Left untreated, bacterial pneumonia can cause dehydration, shock, a serious blood infection or even death.
The best thing to do to avoid pneumonia is to get vaccinated. You can get vaccinated from the flu, which will prevent or lessen the chances of developing a serious illness and complications. For some of us, getting a vaccination against the viral form of pneumonia is also recommended. People who are 65 years or older or have certain chronic conditions may want to get the pneumonia vaccine.
If you do come down with the flu this year, an especially virulent one, make sure to take care of yourself, including making that call to the doctor, who may be able to prescribe Tamiflu to lessen the impact of the illness.