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Pneumonia: Frequently Asked Questions

Monday, April 23, 2012 - 15:26

Contributing Author: Guy Slowik FRCS

Here are some frequently asked questions related to pneumonia.

Q: Can there be complications from pneumonia?

A: Complications from pneumonia may occur. Secondary infections, which are usually bacterial, may require an additional course of antibiotic treatment, sometimes with a different antibiotic. Rarely, a lung abscess may result from pneumonia. Prompt medical attention can prevent or eliminate most potential complications.

Q: What is "walking pneumonia"?

A: When physicians diagnose someone with walking pneumonia, they are usually talking about an infection with an organism called Mycoplasma pneumoniae. Walking pneumonia is most common between the ages of 5 and 15, and accounts for 70% of pneumonias in children aged 9 to 15. As a rule, mycoplasma pneumoniae infections are not highly contagious. The onset is often so gradual that it may not be noticed at first. A decrease in energy level may be the earliest sign, followed by cold symptoms. The person may complain of a headache, runny nose, and sore throat, and sometimes may have a fever. Unlike a cold, it gradually gets worse over about two weeks, with an increasingly moist cough and possible hoarseness as the disease settles into the chest. Mycoplasma infections are easy to treat, although the antibiotics most commonly prescribed for children are not useful. Mycoplasma is exceptionally sensitive, however, to erythromycin, clarithromycin (Biaxin), azithromycin (Zithromax), and tetracyclines (only used over age 8). These medications are usually effective in five to seven days. Without treatment a person will likely remain sick for a month or more, and may develop complications.

Q: Who pays for the needed vaccinations?

A: Most private insurance plans will pay for both the pneumococcal and flu shots, although you should check with your carrier first. Medicare also pays for both shots in people who are older than 65. People with no medical insurance can take advantage of the many programs that will pay for the vaccines, especially for children. Information about these programs is usually available from your doctor, local hospitals, or county or state health departments.

Q: My father lives in a nursing home. If he gets pneumonia will he have to be moved?

A: If someone living in a nursing home develops pneumonia, they generally can remain in the nursing home to recover. The person usually does not need to be moved as long as his pulse, temperature, and breathing are not significantly abnormal and qualified health care professionals are available to monitor and treat him. If the pneumonia can be treated with oral, injectable, or intravenous antibiotics, hospitalization is not usually necessary.

Q: Who should NOT get the vaccine?

A: Individuals who have had a previous allergic reaction to any component of the pneumococcal vaccine (e.g., hives, difficulty breathing) should avoid vaccination. The vaccine should also be avoided during radiation therapy or chemotherapy. Pregnant women should not be vaccinated unless a doctor, nurse, or midwife advises it. Children less than 2 years old should not get the shot. People who have any immune system deficiencies or who have had an organ transplant should check with their doctors before getting the shot.

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