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Pneumonia and flu a bad combination

Doctors say just because flu activity has slowed, don't let your guard down yet.

Posted: Feb. 26, 2018 6:38 PM

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTHI) - Many have died across the country due to the flu this season. For patients, complications from the flu can play a large role in that.

The CDC says deaths from pneumonia and flu are up in Indiana this week. Resident Jane Totten says she's especially careful this time of year.

She says, "I'm kind of unique. I have one lung. I had a lung removed when I was 20 due to histoplasmosis, which is the fungus from pigeons."

The Centers for Disease control says the worst of the flu season may be behind us. The number of doctor visits for flu symptoms fell to about one out of 16. But again, the concern is still flu-related complications like pneumonia.

Totten says, "For me it's especially a trying time. I have to be really careful about what I do. Make sure I get my pneumonia shot, my flu shot, and just try to have good hand washing techniques."

If you've had the flu, you know it takes a lot out of you. Union Hospital Registered Respiratory Therapist Jimmy McKanna says someone battling both diseases are at greater risk of being hospitalized or death.

He says, "So you have a weakened immune system and maybe you stopped drinking as much, so your mucus in your airways gets kind of thick, it's hard to get up. Everything stops working the way it should."

As far as pneumonia is concerned, the disease targets lung function. McKanna says this can have a horrible impact on your body.

He says, "When that system gets taxed with a virus or bacterial infection, you're going to become short of breath. That's going to decrease the amount of oxygen you get to your blood cells, therefore the rest of your organs are going to be affected by that."

Of course pulmonary rehab patients like Jane are at a higher risk of having complications. But McKanna says the usual flu-affected age groups need to stay on their toes.

McKanna says, "They don't have as much functional lung tissue at the upper ages, and then at the younger ages, just smaller size of airwaves. It doesn't take a whole lot to clog them up, or inflammation inside of them to close them off."

McKanna adds another risk factor to the equation, which is smoking. "The number one thing that will increase somebody's probability of getting pneumonia is if they smoke. Because you're no longer using your cilia in your air way the way you should. You're deadening them, so that mucus is not pushed out the way it should."

Jane herself had pneumonia a few years ago and she says it really took a toll on her. She shares what she learned from the experience.

Totten says, "I’m one of these people who wait until the very last minute. I will use everything in my cabinet before I make the trip to the ER, and that's not a good thing. Don't be a hero whenever you know you're in trouble and need help."

McKanna says there are three types of pneumonia, and they're all treated differently. For that reason he says reach out to your doctor for testing as soon as possible.

To view the latest flu and pneumonia data from the Centers for Disease Control, click here

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