Parish Nursing: Pneumonia & Strep Throat

Last month’s health article compared the flu to a cold. This month’s compares pneumonia and strep throat. If you have a sore throat and feel as though you have a fever, is this the flu, a cold, pneumonia, or strep throat? What to do? If you are an older adult or have a chronic medical condition, it is a good idea to call your doctor’s office. The symptoms may be related to a viral illness such as the flu or a cold or you may have an illness caused by bacteria such as pneumonia or strep throat.

Bacterial pneumonia can occur after the flu because a person becomes run down and bacterial illnesses can take hold. Fever with a bacterial pneumonia may come and go and a high fever might occur although fever in older adults might not occur at all. Aches, chills and sweats are common, as is fatigue, and shortness of breath, especially with physical exertion, may occur. Bacterial pneumonia does not typically have a headache, stuffy nose, sneezing or a sore throat, but a deep cough might be present producing yellow phlegm. Older adults might have confusion or delirium. Pneumonia vaccination recommendations are:  Children should receive the PCV13 series beginning at age 2 months, followed by doses at 4 months, 6 months and a booster dose at 12 to 15 months. Adults 65 years and older should receive a 1-time dose of PCV13 followed 12 months later by a dose of PPSV23. Check with your primary care provider to see if you are up-to-date or not.

Strep throat is common in children but not so much in adults except those who have contact with school-aged children. Group A strep lives in the nose and throat and can easily spread to other people coughing or sneezing droplets into the air someone else breathes. Infection is also spread by touching something with droplets on it and then touching your nose, mouth, or face. Sharing a glass or a plate with a sick person can spread the disease and touching sores on the skin caused by group A strep (impetigo) can also spread the disease. In general, strep throat is a mild infection but it can be very painful. The most common symptom is a sore throat, which can start very quickly, with pain on swallowing, fever, red and swollen tonsils, sometimes with white patches or streaks of pus. Also, an infected person might have tiny, red spots on the roof of the mouth or swollen glands in the front of the neck. Other symptoms include headache, stomach pain, and nausea or vomiting or a rash. If a person has a viral illness he might also have a cough, runny nose, hoarseness, or pink eye. A simple test for strep throat can be quickly performed by your health care provider. If you have strep throat, antibiotics, (penicillin or amoxicillin), help you get better fast, usually within just a day or two.

Complications from strep throat can be very serious and occurs if the bacteria has spread to other parts of the body. These include abscesses around the tonsils, sinus or ear infection, rheumatic fever or post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis (kidney disease).

Washing your hands often for at least 20 seconds is the best protection against these illnesses; use alcohol-based hand rub if soap and water are not available. If sick, stay home. If coughing or sneezing cover your nose and mouth with a tissue then place it in the trash and wash your hands.

“You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”  1 Corinthians 6:20

~ Marilyn Fleming, RN, MSN for the Parish Nurses

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