SINGAPORE: It was a regular day in Ms Alina Boey’s life when she suddenly realised she had dropped a dress size, without any changes to her lifestyle.
She had lost almost 7kg and that made alarm bells ring in her head. It prompted her to go for a thorough medical check-up, and while her bloodwork turned out regular, a further scan showed that her right lung was inflamed.
It took multiple hospital trips and tests before she was eventually diagnosed as having pneumonia, a lung inflammation that most often follows bacterial or viral respiratory infections. But that was only the start of her medical issues.
Ms Boey developed various skin conditions such as hives, while another pre-existing condition – eczema – also flared up.
Her doctor said these could be linked to immunity issues triggered by her pneumonia, she told CNA.
As she continues to battle her health issues, doctor visits are “exhausting”, Ms Boey said.
“In terms of quality of life, it’s not easy, I think mentally, especially.”
THE EFFECTS OF PNEUMONIA
While Ms Boey’s conditions are not life-threatening, for others like her who are not vaccinated against pneumonia, more severe issues could arise. This includes heart attacks for those who have underlying heart diseases.
“Sometimes patients do not know that they have underlying heart diseases such as coronary artery disease or blockages,” said Dr William Kristanto, cardiologist at The Cardiac Centre in Farrer Park Hospital.
“What happens is that when they get admitted for pneumonia, this pneumonia triggers a cascade of inflammatory response that then triggers off the heart blockage condition, causing heart attacks.”
Dr Kristanto said the majority of patients admitted for pneumonia are those who have compromised immune systems or are above the age of 65.
Dr Julio Ramirez, chief research scientist at Norton Infectious Diseases Institute said his centre’s research in the last couple of years has shown that while a “significant number” of patients hospitalised for pneumonia get discharged and go home, their health may not be as good as before.
“They never go back to baseline or there are other medical problems that emerge after pneumonia,” said Dr Ramirez from Norton Healthcare in Louisville, Kentucky.
“This is why at this moment, the best way to consider pneumonia is that (it) is not just a lung problem. It is a systemic problem (that) affects the lungs affects the heart, the liver, the kidney.”
He added that pneumonia may not be just an acute three-week illness, but one that can affect an individual for years down the road.
And for seniors, getting pneumonia could mean a decrease in life expectancy.
THE NEED FOR VACCINATION
While they may need it the most, it is vulnerable groups like seniors who do not understand the need for vaccination against pneumonia, said Dr Kristanto.
He added that some elderly patients also tend to confuse pneumonia jabs with flu jabs. They think pneumonia jabs are only needed during flu season or when one travels.
“(It’s only) when I spend time explaining to them that it’s not just the influenza vaccine (that’s available), but there’s pneumococcal vaccination as well that they realise ‘oh, you mean there’s more than one respiratory illness out there’,” he said.
On the back of World Immunisation Week last week, he urged family doctors to correct such misconceptions so that patients will have a better understanding and are more likely to get vaccinated.
Dr Ramirez similarly urged people to get vaccinated against pneumonia.
Several viruses and bacteria can cause pneumonia, the doctors said.
According to HealthHub, frequent causes include the common cold, influenza, COVID-19 and pneumococcal disease.
“Contracting one episode of pneumonia doesn’t give you immunity against all the viruses or bacteria out there. So definitely, you still need to get your full protection with the various pneumonia and influenza vaccinations available,” Dr Kristanto said.
He and Ms Boey called for more patient awareness and education.
“The message has to be loud and clear out there that there is a need to get protected, especially in the vulnerable population,” said Dr Kristanto.