What vaccine should you take? Flu or pneumonia, antivirals or antibiotics? And how do you know, because some symptoms are so similar, to which disease you are exposed? Flu is generally regarded as viral in origin while pneumonia is bacterial. But what can start out as flu can end up as pneumonia, even though we’re talking about two different diseases and causes that usually call for different treatment.

Or do they?

We can’t help you in choosing which vaccine to use—and that should really be a decision made by a physician after a thorough checkup— without getting you up to date on their symptoms and what separates them from each other. In a nutshell

Pneumonia: Not Just Another Chest Cold…

Pneumonia goes right for the lungs, the most serious of common chest infections, inflaming the lungs with the potential of quickly escalating to the status of life-threatening. Since its cause is predominately characterized as bacterial, antibiotics are typically prescribed, but it may also be viral in origin, especially if it expands from a case of the flu. It can be contagious (virus) or not contagious (bacteria), and that compounds the confusion that may only be clarified by a medical examination. The good news is that vaccinations can prevent, even conquer pneumonia, as long as you know its cause.

Influenza: Hit It with Your Best Shot…

Influenza, a.k.a. the flu, comes in various strains, but it is almost always caused by a virus, and, like most colds, is infectious or contagious. The flu can often lead to pneumonia if undiagnosed or belatedly treated. Vaccinations are highly effective in fighting the flu and are recommended for the elderly and infirmed during the cold and flu season, which usually peaks between December and February.

Flu Versus Pneumonia: What’s the Difference?

So you’re not feeling very well, with a cough, congestion, a fever and maybe even chills and the sweats. It could very well be the inception of pneumonia, but it doesn’t seem all that serious. You’re thinking it’s probably the flu. As we’ve already noted, pneumonia, whose consequences tend to be the most severe, is the great pretender and most difficult to identify. Neither pneumonia nor the flu, particularly its most morbid strains, should be taken lightly and may result in hospitalization or worse.

We can give you a breakdown of the typical symptoms of each:

  • Flu often starts with a sore throat, headache, achy muscles and joints, sweating, fever and chills.
  • Pneumonia, because it develops primarily in the lungs, is commonly denoted by chest pain and congestion, difficult or rapid breathing, as well as excess mucous and coughing up sputum. Your pulse rate may speed up because the heart is struggling with extra effort.

What sets them apart?

—Pneumonia—

  • The mucous you cough up is sputum and if green or yellow in color is typically a symptom of pneumonia, even in its early stages.
  • Chest pain is a common symptom.

—Flu—

  • Although seldom a signature of flu, mucous or phlegm, when present, is likely to be clear to white.
  • Chest pain is seldom an issue

Precaution: Flu itself does not naturally lead to pneumonia, but the virus does weaken the immune system, allowing the pneumonia bacteria to invade and gain a foothold. This complicates both treatment and recovery.

What vaccinations work…

Pneumonia vaccinations are available to combat only streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria: Pneumovax (PPSV23) and Prevnar (PCV13). If you are 65 or older, take the Prevnar, with follow-up annual shots of Pneumovax separated by a year. Vaccines for influenza, haemophilus influenzae type B, varicella, measles, pertussis and pneumococcus may actually block bacteria and viruses that may lead to pneumonia.

Flu shots are recommended yearly for everyone six months of age or older, especially if you are among the high-risk population, and they may also deter the onset of pneumonia.  Side effects of these vaccines are negligible.

A Final Recommendation: Take a flu shot every year. It may also provide additional protection from pneumonia. Consult your physician if you are high risk for pneumonia for additional vaccinations.