This year’s flu season has claimed the lives of at least 6 children and many more adults. It’s widespread in many states, and we are told to brace ourselves for yet another severe flu season as we enter the peak.
However, the number one cause of death when it comes to the flu is pneumonia. And the respiratory depression that appears to come on with these otherwise healthy individuals, appears to affect them within hours. Which brings the question…. Should we be entertaining the possibility that a severe pneumonia strain is affecting us this “flu season” and should we be encouraging pneumonia vaccines as well as the flu vaccine?
Most children are vaccinated against pneumonia
The vaccine schedule for children in the US includes the pneumococcal vaccine (PCV13) given at 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 12 – 15 months of age. Over 2 years of a child, one can get the PPSV23 if they did not receive the PCV13.
Not all young adults get the pneumonia vaccine, however if one if over 65, the CDC recommends the pneumococcal vaccines receiving a dose of PCV13 first, followed by a dose of PPSV23, at least 1 year later.
Now a variety of pathogens can be responsible for pneumonia, including viruses’, fungi, and bacteria other than pneumococcus, but streptococcal pneumonia is the most common cause. If those affected by pneumonia this year were vaccinated, we need to know the strain, meaning specifically what pathogen was responsible for their pneumonia.
Not all pneumonia presents with a cough
Although pneumonia presents with symptoms such as fever, body aches, cough, shortness of breath and sputum production, some individuals may not present with these symptoms when they have pneumonia. Some of the tragic “flu death” cases this year were in adults who initially had a “mild cough”. Since flu symptoms are similar, some may never know if they have pneumonia.
As a result we are telling patients who have the flu to return immediately to the doctor’s office/urgent care/emergency room if they have any of the below symptoms:
- Recurring fever
- Fever that won’t subside after 2 days
- Shortness of breath
- Difficulty breathing
- Productive cough
- Blood in sputum
- Fast breathing
- Fast heart rate
- Chest pain
and speak with your medical provider regarding other symptoms they may want you to watch out for.
Daliah Wachs, MD, FAAFP is a nationally syndicated radio personality on GCN Network, iHeart Radio, KDWN, and is a Board Certified Family Physician