You’ve got a bad cough, a fever and the chills. Are you fighting the flu or something worse? It could be pneumonia, a lung infection caused by bacteria, viruses and fungi. Pneumonia affects millions of people a year, and can be life-threatening for older adults, babies and those with chronic diseases like asthma or heart disease. Symptoms include chills, fever, sweating, chest pain, cough and headache. Prompt treatment can minimize complications, so see your doctor if you suspect you have more than a cold or the flu.
What can you do to prevent pneumonia?
- If you smoke, quit. Tobacco damages your lungs’ ability to fight infection.
- Avoid contact with people who have a cold or the flu.
- Ask your healthcare provider if you should be vaccinated to prevent pneumonia. Two vaccines may help:
- Flu vaccine. Sometimes, pneumonia develops after a bout of the flu, so experts recommend getting the flu vaccine to ward off both illnesses. Anyone who wants to reduce the risk of flu can get vaccinated, but children ages 6 months to 18 years, adults older than 50, healthcare providers and those with chronic health problems should definitely get the vaccine yearly.
- Pneumonia vaccine. It prevents illnesses caused by the Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria. People ages 65 and older, and younger people who have a condition that lowers the body’s ability to fight infection, should get vaccinated. One dose usually does the trick.
If you catch bacterial pneumonia, your healthcare provider will likely try to treat the infection with antibiotics. If the cause is viral, antibiotics won’t help, so your healthcare provider may prescribe antiviral medication. Drinking lots of fluids, getting plenty of rest and taking acetaminophen will help you feel better.