Strains of flu could cause death



Pneumonia can lead to a dicey situation for a person’s health. But local officials say it’s hard to track data about pneumonia in the community.


At Rockingham Memorial Hospital, for instance, they don’t code deaths or serious cases with a pneumonia tag in the database.


Rob Sisk, outgoing public information officer with Sentara RMH, explained earlier this month that “it’s not something we normally report out on, so we can’t pull the data.”


Pneumonia can stem from other illnesses and can lead to serious health problems for vulnerable local residents, like the elderly or very young. But it can also strike seemingly otherwise healthy adults.


There are two types — viral and bacterial. Bacterial is the deadlier form.


Fishersville Baptist Church Pastor Steven Parker died Jan. 29 at the age of 49. Parker was diagnosed with bacterial pneumonia, say church members, reportedly leading to his death.


Near the end of January, Parker developed a cough and was later admitted to the hospital.


“We knew he had the double pneumonia, and it was very serious,” said deacon Otis Feaganes earlier in February. “He had bacterial and not viral.”


According to Dr. Amy Mathers, an infectious disease specialist at University of Virginia Medical Center, pneumonia is in the top 10 causes of deaths in America.


“The most common cause of viral pneumonia that’s going around now is going to be influenza,” Mathers said. “The influenza virus can cause pneumonia and is a contagious virus and it can affect communities.”


Recently in Virginia there has been widespread reporting of influenza, specifically of pandemic flu. Currently, this stream tends to hit groups that usually are not at risk for viral pneumonia in most seasons, Mathers said, specifically people 65 and under.


Parker’s sister, Cindee Cross of Ivor, has been hospitalized since her brother’s funeral Feb. 1.


According to Feaganes, Cross was diagnosed with viral pneumonia and was recently taken off a ventilator.


“She was critical,” Feaganes said. “It looked like she was going the same way her brother did.”


But, as of Tuesday, Cross seemed to be doing better.


Mathers said that with some cases of bacterial pneumonia, patients have had viral pneumonia previously.


“Bacterial pneumonia tends to appear in people who are older or have abnormal immune systems, when it’s bad enough so you have to go into the hospital,” Mathers said. “In the current season, it can be seen after one has a viral pneumonia, so you get what’s called a post-influenza pneumonia, and that’s a bacterial pneumonia and it can be quite severe.”


Mathers urges the public to get vaccinated for the flu — anyone over the age of six months. Vaccines for bacterial pneumonia are also available, but are typically suggested to be given only once or twice in a person’s lifetime.


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