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What is the Connection Between Influenza and Pneumonia?

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  • Written By: T. Broderick
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 26 September 2016
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Influenza and pneumonia are related in that pneumonia is a very serious and sometimes life-threatening complication of influenza. The way influenza attacks the human body makes the body susceptible to pneumonia infection. Though healthy individuals will rarely contract pneumonia while sick with influenza, those with chronic medical conditions are at a much higher risk. Receiving an annual influenza vaccination is the best protection against catching either disease. Prompt medical attention provides the highest chances of recovery for someone who has developed influenza and pneumonia.

Influenza is a family of viruses that have a common infection cycle. Every year a subtype of influenza jumps from animals, usually domesticated farm animals, to humans. These infections generally begin in Asia before spreading across the world. As the infection cycle is annual, early cases allow the medical community to develop a vaccine for that particular strain of the virus. In North America, a vaccine is usually available before the virus has a chance to infect large numbers of people.

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As a different strain of influenza appears every year, the human body will have a different reaction each time. If a strain is particularly virulent, a person is put at risk for pneumonia. Viral and bacterial pneumonia can develop in an influenza patient, though the latter is much more common. Either way, in addition to symptoms of influenza, a patient will develop shortness of breath, vomiting, joint pain and possibly cough up blood. The combination of influenza and pneumonia symptoms puts a patient in a critical state.

Though influenza and pneumonia can develop in anyone, the combination appears most often in the very young, elderly and those with chronic medical conditions. Infants and the elderly are linked by underdeveloped and/or weakened immune systems. Pneumonia develops as their bodies cannot fight off the influenza infection. The same is true of diabetics and those with HIV. As having a chronic medical condition increases the mortality rate of influenza and pneumonia, prevention of this deadly combination is necessary.

An annual influenza vaccination is a cheap and reliable way to protect oneself against influenza and pneumonia. As the vaccine uses a dead virus, there is no chance of developing symptoms. To vaccinate vulnerable individuals, many governments have made influenza vaccinations free to these people. Influenza vaccinations are available in North America every year starting about October.

If one experiences flu symptoms lasting more than ten days, medical treatment is necessary to prevent pneumonia or treat it in its early stages. Certain medications have shown promise against viral pneumonia, but only if given within the first 48 hours. This is why delaying treatment is not an option. If a patient misses this window of opportunity, hospitalization may be required, especially for those with already weakened immune systems.

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