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14 September 2016

Pneumonia: Why Hillary Will Be Okay

At one point or another, someone you know has contracted pneumonia. It may not have been immediate family, maybe a cousin or schoolmate, but it’s so common that I’d put money on it. For those of you keeping a close track on the American presidential campaign, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton is the latest to be infected. We saw her fumbling to her car with the help of her security team, in the throes of pneumonia. The internet has run rampant with conspiracy theories about the supposed good health of Clinton with some going so far as to speculate about whether she can continue with the election or be replaced. I’d like to take the time to put those grand guesses and haughty hypotheses to bed … just as Clinton has gone to rest up.

First Things First: What is Pneumonia?

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Pneumonia, although often associated with colder climates, is actually an infection of the lungs that has varying degrees of seriousness, with temperature playing a very small role. The infection can affect just one lobe of a lung, a whole lung, or both lungs, though the type of germ causing the infection will determine the severity. Once pneumonia is contracted, the affected area will become inflamed. It then leaks fluid/pus and sheds dead cells. This excess material clogs air sacs, effectively shutting down the lung’s job of getting oxygen to the blood. Without the oxygen necessary to carry through the day, your body will succumb to exhaustion.

Second off: How Bad is Bad?

Diagnosing the severity of your infection is a job best left to your doctor, but for information’s sake let’s get cracking! The key factors to consider are the cause of inflammation, the type of germ, age, and overall health. There are several types of pneumonia, but the major ones are bacterial, viral, and mycoplasma.

Any age group can be affected by this type of pneumonia, otherwise called community-acquired pneumonia or CAP. It is the most commonly contracted of the different types since it can be picked up in public places. Nearly 60% of all CAP infections are caused by the bacteria Streptococcus pneumoniae, easily treated with antibiotics.

Young children and the elderly are most susceptible to this type of pneumonia, contracted on the heels of respiratory viruses or influenza (flu). This type of pneumonia is the leading cause of hospitalisation in infants, according to the American Thoracic Society.

All age groups can be affected by this atypical pneumonia, caused by the bacterium Mycoplasma pneumoniae. Infected individuals will show different symptoms and physical signs by comparison to bacterial or viral pneumonia.

This is by no means comprehensive as there are less common types and some that exclusively affect immunocompromised individuals. Those who smoke are at a higher risk of contracting the illness. Pneumonia is often misdiagnosed as the common cold or flu, although it does tend to stick around for longer. The tell-tale symptoms of pneumonia include chest pain, shaking chills, fever, cough, wheezing, muscle aches, difficulty breathing, confusion, and flushed skin.

Thirdly: Treatment

The infection often befalls the young or elderly, making an exception for the immunocompromised persons, although about 1 million adults in the U.S. are hospitalised with pneumonia each year, according to the American Thoracic Society. Cases of pneumonia can be cured at home if it isn’t a severe case. After a visit to the doctor, it’s very important to keep up on medication and finish it out whether symptoms stick around or not. Medication can take effect in as early as one to three days of use, but don’t let that fool you into thinking you’re cured. If you cease to finish out the prescription, pneumonia can come back.

One important part of recovery is getting a good amount of rest and plenty of fluid. The body has been fatigued from a lack of oxygen and struggling against the infection. Several weeks after pneumonia has been cured, tiredness or lethargy may still persist. So, while Clinton may need a bit of time to get her bearings after the illness, she’ll hopefully make a full recovery with much rest. 

Jacqui Litvan

Jacqui Litvan, wielding a bachelor's degree in English, strives to create a world of fantasy amidst the ever-changing landscape of military life. Attempting to become a writer, she fuels herself with coffee (working as a barista) and music (spending free time as a raver).