It’s a Cold… It’s the Flu… or Could it be Worse?

Published on - August 15, 2017

SALISBURY, MDA common cold, Influenza (the flu) and pneumonia may look the same at first glance but all have distinct differences in specific symptoms and treatments. A patient starts off with a runny nose and congestion but after several days, a second fever and more coughing may indicate pneumonia, an illness that leads to difficulty breathing, wheezing and chest pain and if not treated properly, can be fatal.

“Pneumonia is many times a secondary reaction to an already weak immune system,” said Jennifer Kline, Peninsula Home Care branch director. “Once a virus has taken its toll, pneumonia is able to infect and do additional damage.”

“While getting a chest x-ray is the way to diagnose pneumonia, there are some clues to help people determine that what they have is more serious than a simple cold or the flu,” said Dr. Joseph Kim, a Sussex County family practice physician and Peninsula Home Care at Nanticoke’s Medical Director. “The secondary fever is the red flag that suggests something more serious is going on. Early signs also include rapid breathing and violent shaking in the chest.”

People with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are more likely to develop pneumonia. It becomes even more dangerous when individuals aren’t sure if they are experiencing a flare-up of COPD symptoms such as exacerbation or symptoms of pneumonia. People with COPD should watch more closely for symptoms that are distinctive of pneumonia, such as the following:

  • Chills
  • Shaking
  • Increased chest pain
  • High fever
  • Headaches and body aches

Older adults may have different, fewer, or milder symptoms. The main sign of pneumonia in seniors can be confusion or delirium. They are also at a higher risk due to health conditions that reduce their immunity or increase their susceptibility, including but not limited to kidney disease, diabetes, stroke, tobacco use and cancer.

Dr. Kim Recommends…

Dr. Kim suggests five strategies to prevent pneumonia:

  1. Quit smoking
  2. Live a healthy lifestyle by eating right and exercising
  3. Maintain and control chronic medical conditions 
  4. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water
  5. Get pneumonia vaccines especially if you are at higher risk

Get vaccinated – wait one year – do it again!

Top treatments for pneumonia include Prevnar 13 (PCV13) and Pneumovax 23 (PPSV23).  Prevnar 13 (PCV13) protects against 13 strains of pneumococcus bacteria and Pneumovax 23 (PPSV23) against 23 strains. By giving Pneumovax 23 at least one year after Prevnar 13, it enhances the body’s immunity against the deadly strains of pneumococcal pneumonia. 

“PCV13 is recommended to be given first because of the immune response to the vaccine when given in this sequence,” added Dr. Kim. “It was proven that when people received PPSV23 as the first does they had lower antibody responses after the second dose of PCV13 than those who received PCV13 as the initial dose ahead of PPSV23.”

For more information, call Peninsula Home Care at 410/543-7550.

About Peninsula Home Care

Providing skilled nursing, physical, occupational and speech therapy for more than 30 years, Peninsula Home Care ensures that all patients are involved in their plan of care and strives to give them every opportunity to maintain their independence in the home. The agency has served more than 50,000 patients in Wicomico, Worcester and Somerset counties in Maryland and Sussex and Kent counties in Delaware. In 2017, PHC and PHCN were designated as Preferred Home Care Provider by Peninsula Regional Medical Center and Nanticoke Health Services.


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