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Recognize the signs: Pneumonia cases on the rise in H1N1 swine flu complications

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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
 Chills
 A cough that produces green, yellow or rust-colored mucus
 Chest pain
 Profuse sweating
 Bluish color of the nails or lips due to diminished oxygen in the blood
 Confused mental state

Those are signs of bacterial pneumonia, from our EmpowHer Encyclopedia. We’ve got a thorough explanation of the illness, including diagnosis and treatment, here:


If you have moved beyond ordinary flu symptoms and are dealing with the more severe symptoms mentioned above, you should NOT wait to seek medical care. Especially since this is a holiday weekend and many people’s regular doctors will be unavailable. Get yourself to an emergency room or a walk-in minor emergency clinic to be checked out. If it’s bacterial pneumonia, you need antibiotics, and waiting will only make things worse. People whose symptoms are very severe may need to be hospitalized.

The Los Angeles Times story:

The Washington Post story:

Add a Comment2 Comments

This is actually the zip-code search for emergency treatment facilities by area:


November 30, 2009 - 8:36am
EmpowHER Guest

As an ER MD I am seeing more patients with pneumococcal pneumonia, some with life threatening sepsis. Please learn the signs and symptoms of pneumonia and find the closest treatment facility in your area at:

November 27, 2009 - 9:55pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.