Achoo! It’s Not Just the Flu

Pneumonia risk increases several fold following infection with the flu virus

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D. Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Many of us have had the flu before and recovered completely. But some people can get very sick due to complications.

In some cases, a recent study found, the flu may even be linked to the risk of developing pneumonia — a lung infection often caused by bacteria.

This study looked at seasonal patterns of the flu and pneumonia. The results suggested that infection with the flu virus can cause a 100-fold increase in the likelihood of developing pneumonia.

"Talk to your doctor about flu prevention measures."

This study was conducted by Pejman Rohani, a professor of epidemiology, and Sourya Shrestha, a postdoctoral fellow at the School of Public Health at University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, along with colleagues.

The aim of the study was to look at the link between influenza and bacterial pneumonia.

Pneumonia is a condition in which the lungs are infected with bacteria or viruses. Pneumonia is responsible for more deaths than any other infectious disease.

Pneumonia cases usually peak during flu epidemics but previous studies looking at this association have not identified any clear connections.

For this study, the researchers designed a computer program that incorporated different ways that an influenza infection could be related to the occurrence of pneumonia.

They then fed weekly records of influenza and pneumonia in Illinois hospitals between 1989 and 2009 into the computer program. The study specifically focused on pneumococcal pneumonia, which is caused by a type of bacteria called pneumococcus.

The computer program then ranked the different possible ways in which pneumonia and influenza could be related.

The results suggested that people who get influenza have a higher risk of getting pneumococcal pneumonia for one week after they are infected with influenza.

"Simply put, our analyses identified a short-lived but significant — about 100-fold — increase in the risk of pneumococcal pneumonia following influenza infection," said Dr. Rohani in a press release announcing the study results.

According to the researchers, better understanding of the interaction between the flu and pneumonia can help promote better disease prevention measures and effective clinical management of both diseases.

The results of this study were published online June 26 in Science Translational Medicine, a publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

This study was funded by the Vaccine Modeling Initiative of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Department of Homeland Security, the Fogarty International Center and the National Institutes of Health.

Review Date: 
June 26, 2013
Last Updated:
September 6, 2013