You may have heard reports this week that the number of new cases of H1N1 flu has leveled off. That’s good news, though it may bring a false sense of security. This is one of the busiest travel and shopping weekends of the year, and it wouldn’t be surprising if a new round of contagion began as millions of people board airplanes, trains and buses for Thanksgiving visits, or as they crowd shopping malls for holiday bargains.
But the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta want you to be concerned about something else as well: pneumonia. This week they linked the H1N1 epidemic to a sharp rise in severe bacterial infections.
There is “a worrisome spike in serious pneumococcal disease" linked to the pandemic flu, said Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.
Unlike most pneumonias, the swine flu version is attacking young people rather than the elderly.
"In previous pandemics, there has been an increase in pneumococcal infections in younger people," she said.
“The pneumococcal infections typically occur when an influenza infection weakens the lining of the lungs,” said a report in the Los Angeles Times. “This allows bacteria that normally reside in the nose and throat to make their way down to the lungs, where they cause severe inflammation and often spread through the blood to other organs.”
From the Washington Post:
“The illnesses are caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae, a microbe often carried in the nose and throat. While often benign, the bacterium can cause bloodstream infections, fatal pneumonia and meningitis.
“The clearest sign of the marked rise is coming from the Denver area, which usually records about 20 cases of "invasive pneumococcal disease" each October. This year, it has had 58, Schuchat said in a briefing for reporters.
“When flu causes pneumonia, it can damage cells deep in the lungs, opening a portal for bacteria. In an analysis of about 75 fatal H1N1 cases earlier this year, autopsies showed that about one-third had bacterial pneumonia.”
How can you recognize when the flu is turning into pneumonia?
A fever that doesn’t go away